Cold Mountain (2003): Minghella’s Version of Charles Frazier Novel, Starring Nicole Kidman

When Charles Frazier’s first novel “Cold Mountain,” the tale of a soldier’s search for home and love in the last days of the Civil War, was first published in 1997, it received rhapsodic acclaim.

“Cold Mountain” the book drew a detailed portrait of a society in chaos through the love story of a young woman and man, yearning for a return to peace–both politically and emotionally.

Our Grade: C (1 1/2 out of 5 stars)
But, unfortunately, Anthony Minghella’s version of the book is vastly disappointing, a conventional, old-fashioned, centerless Hollywood epic, decorated by handsome sets and beautiful stars, such as Nicole Kidman (who’s miscast as the Southern belle).
It could have been a fascinating picture. The narrative takes place at a time when the deepest divisions—and fiercest battles—in American history were overcome by what Abraham Lincoln called “the birth of new freedom.” It was a time when brothers fought brothers, and lovers were torn from each other’s arms, all in the name of the creation of a new kind of country.
Major problem is  that Minghella perceived the story as a universal one about one man’s inner journey, rather than as a particularly Southern tale.
The setting: Though the savage war was coming to an end, for soldiers and the women they left behind, survival remained uncertain, and the battle to begin a different future was not an easy one.
The movie aims but fails to show in a compelling way an era of spiritual reconstruction, of questioning what is really of value in human existence, of rediscovering the primacy of family life.
Writer-director Minghella, whose 1996 The English Patient had swept the Oscar Awards (Best Picture, Best Director), says that he wanted to tell a mythic emotional story about the return from war and the effects of war’s brutality and chaos on families and friendships.  Inman’s journey back to Cold Mountain is depicted  as a soul-searching and soul-finding odyssey, a man looking to regain his tortured soul.
In theory, Minghella perceives Frazier ‘s novel as a refashioning of Homer’s The Odyssey, with a story about a man who needs to get home, yet every conceivable obstacle is placed in his way.
The character of Inman (whose name is not unlike Everyman), is put through a series of tests—by hubris, by courage, by vanity, by romantic love, by his coarse desires, and by his loyalty. Epic story requires an epic hero, and Inman is not heroic enough.
At one point, Inman tells Ada: “I lost your mother after 22 years of marriage, and that was enough to fill a life.”
Based on the evidence on screen, Cold Mountain is a failure, both as an extraordinary physically adventure and a convincing spiritual journey.
Oscar Context

For her performance, Renée Zellweger won the Oscar, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award and BAFTA Award in the Best Supporting Actress category.

Despite mixed reviews, the feature was a success at the box office and became a sleeper hit, grossing globally more than double ($173 million) than its budget of $79 million.


Cinematography John Seale
Edited by Walter Murch
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date: December 25, 2003
Running time: 154 minutes