Cold Mountain (Blu-ray)
When I think back on my formative years watching movies, I remember a time when Miramax (or “the house that Harvey built”) was nearly untouchable. It seemed like every year they had another hit (or two, or three) – contenders for the big night as the Best Picture of the year. While they certainly haven’t held the sole spot in recent memory, there are notable exceptions that include COLD MOUNTAIN (2003). On the surface, COLD MOUNTAIN appeared to be the perfect contender: a star vehicle for red-hot Nicole Kidman (MOULIN ROUGE), based on a popular book, set during the Civil War with sweeping images, directed by indie darling Anthony Minghella (THE ENGLISH PATIENT)… the list goes on and on.
COLD MOUNTAIN is a sweeping epic that begins near the end of the Civil War and is told partially in flashback. There is a battlefield, a siege being prepared, and the air is not quite crackling with tension as soldiers try to relax and enjoy a moment of repose when a rabbit jumps into the trenches and tries to elude the soldiers who would catch it. Suddenly the attack commences and these ‘soldiers’, young farmers who appear half starved, are overrun. This is a powerful and jarring opening to a movie that could have used more of these moments. As the battle quiets we are whisked into the past where we see a slightly younger Inman (Jude Law) constructing a building. Inman notices a young woman walking down the street, and we are introduced to Ms. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), a young noble-woman who lives with her father, a local Reverand, on a private estate.
Ms. Monroe immediately catches Inman’s eye, and they begin a cautious courtship that is, at once, both completely believable and totally alien to today’s mentality. Spending very little time together and sharing only the slightest of flirtations, they forge a love that carries the film. This is a story of love and a story of how far love can take us. When Inman is called to join the Confederate Army in the middle of his courtship, he asks that Ada simply wait for him… he will return for her. But life on the mountain is harsh, and during the Civil War even more so. To survive Ada forms an unlikely friendship with Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger), a local woman who knows how to work the land and isn’t bothered by Ada’s lack of experience. But even as Ada and Ruby’s friendship blossoms, Inman tries desperately to return to his love. Along the way Inman encounters all sots of trouble but he never stops trying, fighting to return home.
COLD MOUNTAIN is a good movie, it even flirts with greatness, but watching it you just get the feeling that it could have been tighter, quicker, more focused. Kidman actually delivers one of the film’s most uneven performances but is saved by great performances from her supporting cast. Donald Sutherland (as Ada’s father) steals every scene he has (far too few) and Zellweger (who won an Oscar for her work) does a great job as the simple (on the surface) Ruby. In addition, there are nice turns by Jude Law (not quite Oscar-worthy in my opinion, but very good), Brendan Gleeson (as Ruby’s father), and Philip Seymour Hoffman and Natalie Portman (as two very different people Inman encounters trying to get home to Ada). The performances could have taken the movie to another level, but poor pacing and a story that is just a little too obvious drop it down a few rungs leaving us with a movie that flirts with timelessness but just barely escapes mediocrity.
Video:(1080p, 2.35:1 Widescreen) The video is beautiful and epic as you would expect from a movie spanning the southern United States. The transfer is incredibly well done.
Audio: (English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio) The audio is great and contains beautiful contrasts that you can only truly enjoy on your home system (where you can set the levels just as you would like).
Commentary with Screenwriter/Director Anthony Minghella and Editor Walter Murch (02:34:26) A great commentary that is for both the period film enthusiast and the common film fan. Minghella and Murch are a great team who provide some really entertaining and engaging conversation (though Minghella tends to dominate the conversation).
Climbing Cold Mountain” Documentary (01:14:06) This is a feature that goes beyond the normal ‘behind the scenes’ faire and provides a much more in-depth look into the making of the film. Like the movie, it’s a little too long for my taste but interesting and beautiful in it’s own right. The cast and crew’s passion for the project actually makes me like it a bit more.
Deleted Scenes (20:59) Only three scenes are presented here, cut (thank goodness) provide interesting character development and further insight into the horror’s of the war.
The Words and Music of Cold Mountain – Royce Hall Special (01:33:06) This is the type of special feature you might wish would be included on many discs… presented in HD this is a combination concert/performance piece celebrating the film, the music, and discussion of the film. This is a must for fans of the film.
A Journey To Cold Mountain (29:41) This featurette is a bit more palatable in terms of length and includes great behind the scenes shots and cast and crew interviews. It feels a bit tacked on here, honestly.
Sacred Harp History (04:09): Tim Eriksen and others talk about the Sacred Harp and the tradition of this incredible social/religious singing style.
Storyboard Comparison: Includes three scenes with storyboards featured prominently at the top with splitscreen below showing the actual footage from the film. I find these fascinating, but they aren’t for everyone. If you’re interested in the technical aspects of filmmaking, check it out. The three scenes included are: The Siege at St. Petersburg (03:56), The Swanger Torture Scene (02:36), and Sara’s Cabin (03:45)