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Cold Mountain

And the Oscar Goes to... (?)

This is the time of the year in which whispers about Academy Awards begin to gain volume amongst those who care about that sort of thing. Anthony Minghella is no stranger to the Academy; he won the Best Director award for his 1996 adaptation of The English Patient. And with Cold Mountain, he seems to be, at least on paper, in the running for another award.

In case you haven't read the book, here's the general plot. America is in the throes of civil war. A Confederate soldier named Inman (Jude Law) gets wounded and ends up in a hospital. His memories and passion for Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) can torment him no further; Inman decides to desert and to walk back across the South to his home and to his lady-friend. The story concerns the lives of both Inman and Ada, separately, but the bulk of the tale is Inman's Homeric trek.

Jude Law and Nicole Kidman are not Americans, and it's clear that the Southern accent is particularly hard for foreign speakers of English to wrap their vocal chords around. At first their attempts to speak with a Southern drawl are incredibly awkward, however, once the audience acclimates to it, the poor accents evaporate.

I guess the main problem that I had with Cold Mountain is that it tended to come across as cheesy at times. Minghella does his best Terrance Malick, and falls just shy. For those of you unfamiliar with Malick (and there are many; he's only directed three films: Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line), the man knows how to set a mood with the lens. Minghella seems to favor this approach but doesn't quite hit the nail on the head in this one- one too many shots of Inman gazing handsomely into the past, and too many long nature shots.

The strong point in the film, and this is strange for me to say, is Renee Zellweger. She plays Ruby Thewes, a live-wire hick of a woman. She brings some much-needed comic relief and generally wins the spotlight from the more oft-lauded Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.

This year's crop of serious Best Picture contenders is rather thin, paving the way for an epic such as Cold Mountain to be considered. It will likely be in the running, that much is certain, but that certainly doesn't mean that Cold Mountain is a masterpiece. It's good, as good and solid as a Hollywood "art" picture can be, but it's short of perfect.