Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Cold Mountain, the Movie

I finally saw the movie based on Charles Frazier's best-selling novel, Cold Mountain. The movie is good, but disappointing. The novel draws its power from Inman's long, perilous journey home to Cold Mountain, North Carolina, in the aftermath of the bloody battle of Petersburg (Virginia), where he almost perished. In the novel, Inman's journey is intercut with the tribulations of Ada, with whom Inman had fallen in love before going to war, and Ruby, a mountain woman who "learns" Ada how to run her farm without a man. The story of Ada and Ruby, though suspenseful and fascinating in its own right, serves mainly to make Inman's journey seem longer and more suspenseful. Inman's tragic end, the emotional climax of the novel, follows his return and blissful reunion with Ada.

The movie spends too much time on Ada and Ruby, shortchanging the epic nature of Inman's journey. The interaction of Jude Law (Inman) and Nicole Kidman (Ada) fails to match the attraction that leaps from the pages of Frazier's novel. Perhaps it's the script, perhaps it's the direction, and perhaps it's the actors. I think it's the actors: Frazier's Inman could have been played perfectly by a young Gary Cooper -- strong and silent, in contrast to Law's rather short and loquacious version. Frazier's Ada could have been played perfectly by a young Vivien Leigh -- who, in fact, played Ada's prototype in Gone with the Wind.

Having said that, I must defend Renée Zellweger's Ruby. Zellweger did not overplay the role, regardless of what some critics say. Those critics must never have met an up-country native of the Appalachians. Zellweger's Ruby is a perfect characterization, in accent, attitude, and manner -- rude, crude, suspicious of outsiders, and aggressively defensive. Zellweger deserves her Oscar.

The movie version of Cold Mountain deserves a viewing, but don't expect more than 152 minutes of entertainment. You won't remember it as one of the greatest movies ever made -- not by a long shot.