Already being touted as this year's biggest competitor to LOTR at the Oscars, "Cold Mountain" is one of the more successful arthouse films of late but film of the year? Hardly, and certainly nowhere near the achievement level of 'King' or other Oscar winners of late like "Chicago" or "A Beautiful Mind".
'Cold' is a very bleak and almost savage tale of frontier life during wartime with all its inherent savagery - for all intents and purposes its a far more effective movie and realistic 'western' than the recent misfire that was Ron Howard's decent but hokey "The Missing".
'Cold' is an epic, as shown by the somewhat shocking Civil War battle scene which kicks it all off, but one which is more about interpersonal relationships and the smaller things in life. There's three separate subplots as such, the main one about the fleeting and hopeful romance between the two leads whilst well acted rings false and when fulfilled isn't particularly satisfying.
Better is her separate storyline about the budding friendship/love with the blunt and fiery Zellweger who essentially starts off as the film's comic relief although is allowed to develop into something more interesting. The third is a buffed up Jude Law on his journey home which is essentially a road movie (yes its like 'Fellowship of the Ring 'or 'Apocalyse Now') with lots of little 5-10 minute vignettes involving different people he encounters - there's a dressed down celebrity cameo at every turn and it usually involves someone getting killed or chained up.
The cast all deliver great work, Kidman and Law are superb actors who whilst both do slip up on occasion, come up with believable performances who portray the weariness and difficulty of living in this world and facing the demons of their own minds and those around them.
Zellweger, although her accent is so strong that half the time she's impossible to understand, effectively pulls of a character unlike anything she's ever done before and gives this rather cold and distant story some much needed heart and warmth. Celeb cameos are also strong with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a rather naughty preacher, and Natalie Portman as a single mother trying to keep her baby alive in this turbulent time the highlights.
The production team deliver the film's look superbly, the hills, mountains and forests of Romania effectively portraying the look of 19th century North Carolina and the American mid-west in this more rugged time. Costumes, cinematography and music are all nicely poetic and fit the period.
Minghella is not afraid to show the utter carnage of the war and the nastier things in farm life (there's a LOT of animal slaughter in this, all very up close and personal). Its an emotionally draining and hard-going experience, a tough movie to sit through but a powerful one nonetheless and whilst its not the great film that it so longs to be, it is a strong journey worth taking if your prepared for it.