Cold Mountain (2003)

(In theaters, January 2004) Mix in a tragic love story, scenes of war and destruction, plenty of cameos from recognizable actors, lush landscapes, a quirky performance from an established star (Renée Zellweger, playing a character that squints less than usual) and plenty of historical period detail. What do you have? Why, a sign that it’s Oscar-bait season again. Granted, Cold Mountain is more entertaining than what you may imagine for a Civil War love story: There’s a lot more gunplay and nudity than I expected. There are some remarkable visuals (including a nightmarish, but historically accurate “crater of doom”), one big explosion, good performances and an interesting look at civilian life in the Deep South during that period. Jude Law is credible in a role in which every woman he meets wants him in their bed and Nicole Kidman has a good turn as a blonde Southern belle left to her own devices. Story-wise, though, this is a film with significant problems: huge coincidences are shamelessly used as plot drivers and the overall thrust of the story is quite predictable. As if that wasn’t enough, the episodic nature of the screenplay is a disappointment: whole sections could be cut out without any impact on the rest of the film. (Why yes, I’m thinking about the Natalie Portman “Sara” segment) It’s certainly not bad at all, but neither is it a masterpiece. Oscar-bait, like other type of films, can also be overrated.

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