Ada, the daughter and of a minister, and Inman, a Confederate soldier, pine for one another while he's off taking part in the Civil War. Meanwhile, the death of Ada's father leaves her destitute and she it takes the intervention of a pragmatic young woman named Ruby to give her the strength to go on.
In 1864, near the close of the American Civil War, Inman, a Confederate soldier is badly wounded. Sick of the horrors of the conflict, he decides to desert and journey back to the township of Cold Mountain and to Ada (Nicole Kidman), the well-bred daughter of the Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland). Ada pledged to Inman that she would wait for him. His Homeric journey is filled with dangers, both from Union soldiers and Confederate Home Guard vigilantes; and while Inman is travelling home, Ada, incapable of running the farm after her father's death, is comforted by the help and friendship of Ruby (Renee Zellweger), a rough-hewn country girl who won't let any setback faze her for long.
Sumptuously photographed by John Seale, mostly on locations in Romania, the film is charged with suspense as well as simmering emotion. Minghella constantly cuts back and forth between the two main characters, and both Law and Kidman are superb in these roles, though an almost unrecognisable Renee Zellweger steals the film as the tenacious Ruby. Alongside these richly drawn characters are a host of beautifully cast supporting players.The pacing is a touch too deliberate, and the narrative arc contains few real surprises, but overall this handsome and intelligent movie represents director Minghella's best work in the cinema so far.
Comments by Margaret Pomeranz: It's always a challenge for a filmmaker to translate a much-read and much-loved book to the screen. Charles Frazier's debut novel Cold Mountain was on the New York Times best seller list for 45 weeks when it was published in 1997. British director Anthony Mingella adapted it to the screen with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law starring. The story is set in the dying days of the American Civil War when Inman (Jude Law) rejecting the pointless violence he's part of as a Confederate soldier decides to go home to Cold Mountain in North Carolina, to the woman he left three years ago. She's Ada (Nicole Kidman), a society beauty who'd come to Cold Mountain with her father, Donald Sutherland, for his health.
The film cuts between Inman's odyssey and the people he meets and must avoid on the road – he's wanted as a deserter – and Ada's struggles during a time of deprivation to simply survive. It's a life she's ill-equipped to deal with, but one day Ruby (Renee Zellweger) arrives at Ada's farm. Ruby may not have Ada's refinements but she knows the land and has skills Ada desperately needs.
Having read Frazier's novel some years ago I realised, seeing the film, how much the language of the book was able to enhance what is really a very episodic story. Unfortunately, Mingella's screenplay is prosaic, he's unable to lift the story beyond the mere depiction of events to encompass the sweeping romanticism of the novel and he's been unable to give the characters of Ada and Inman the integrity they deserve. His lack of subtlety in direction has Renee Zellweger giving one of the most ludicrous and irritating performances of her career and, although Nicole Kidman is truly beautiful on screen, she's floundering to give any sort of solid base to Ada. Jude Law is pretty but miscast. The accents hang unconvincingly off everyone. The main problem is a lack of subtlety, the story is dumped in front of you on a platter. It could have been much better told than this.