Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain I decided to watch because I came across the soundtrack and fell in love. The film takes place in the Civil War-era South, and as a country fan, I was immediately drawn to the stark traditional arrangements. The music in the movie was produced by T. Bone Burnett and features, among others, Jack White (who also co-starred!). It’s easy to see the bridge between the Anglo-Saxon ballads transported from England to our modern country songs today.

The movie itself is incredibly beautiful. Filmed in the mountains of Romania (where my dad is from!), director Anthony Minghella’s shots sweep over mountainous snowy vistas and lush valleys. Even knowing it was filmed elsewhere, you get the sense of how open to possibility America still was, how there really wasn’t a lay of the land to speak of (yet).

Jude Law plays Inman, a Southern man who falls in love with Ada, a preacher’s daughter (played by Nicole Kidman). I’d like to deem him Sad Hipster Jude, as he has a musician’s scraggly beard and mourning, soulful eyes (still a good look for him, though! Jude – bring back the beard!). After fighting for and deserting the Confederates, he must find his way back to Cold Mountain and his love. There’s one epic battle scene in particular that is so bloody, such a pointless loss of life on both sides, that we got to Googling and learned 30% of white Southern men perished during the Civil War. I couldn’t help but be reminded of that line from The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”: “You take what you need and you leave the rest / But they should never have taken the very best.”

Inman’s quest does bring to mind The Odyssey, which reminded me of another modern retelling of Homer with a great soundtrack – O Brother Where Art Thou. Cold Mountain does not have as much of a sense of humor as O Brother, and it certainly doesn’t have as much an interest in words. Inman and Ada’s courtship exists mainly in longing looks and one intense kiss, and the actors are forced to maintain stoic intensity that almost verges on constipation.

The supporting cast is quite strong, though. You’ll recognize Jack White, Natalie Portman, Cillian Murphy, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Renee Zellweger in the most plucky role she’s held since Bridget Jones.

Cold Mountain will certainly strike you with its impressive, if glacial, beauty, but the heart of the film was in its music. Check out a video (below). It’s worthwhile viewing and even more essential listening.