Directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Natalie Portman and Jack White.
Writing guru Christopher Vogler has claimed that all 12 of the supposed common plot lines can be boiled down to one archetype - The Journey of the Hero. According to Vogler, all stories are essentially this: through chances of fate or contingency our reluctant hero is called to duty and thus embarks on a journey littered with tests and obstacles. Take any film or novel and it can be analysed through this paradigm. However, when a story involves the returning soldier then the journey takes on epic proportions. For none have travelled for so long or fought so hard to reach home as Homer's hero, Odysseus.
Writers as diverse as James Joyce and more recently the Cohen brothers have borrowed from the plot and mythic creations of the Odyssey - a story plundered and pillaged for centuries. A staple reference of the war novel, in Charles Fraizer's 'Cold Mountain' Homer is ripped from ancient Greece and rudely planted in America's Deep South.
Director Anthony Minghella's adaptation starts off in epic style on the Civil War battlefields. Painterly in their graphic realism, the fight scenes jolt the viewer, demanding attention for what's to come - one presumes visceral storytelling or intelligent commentary on war or death.
However, things quickly start to fall apart. The film follows the intertwining stories of three characters affected by the war. Ada (Kidman), a high society lady who must become self-sufficient, her lover Inman (Law) our put-upon soldier and Ruby (Zellweger), the wanderer who finally finds shelter.
The blood-soaked battle scenes are intercut with scenes of a fledgling romance between the star-crossed lovers, Ada and Inman. However, the chemistry between Kidman and Law left me colder than the snowscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Just where this supposedly powerful bond stems from remains a mystery as the reticent pair barely exchange two words. One can only presume that it is their shared angelic features that draw them together. Unfortunately the considerable talents of Kidman and Law are wasted on bland and clichéd characters.
Inman is an Everyman character tested by vanity, courage, hubris, lust and romantic love as he dodges Yankee soldiers and army lynch-mobs on his return to Ada. Meanwhile, she pines and dwindles, writing him letters while the homestead turns wild until Ruby shows up to tutor her in the ways of the land. Inman meets all manner of rogues and strays on his path and it is these vignettes that rescue the entire film from drowning in a sea of trite romance. The ensemble cast is impressive, with the exception of Ray Winstone who is painfully miscast, one-dimensional and sports the worst Southern accent this side of Bethnal Green. However, all is not lost with scene stealing performances from the inimitable Philip Seymour Hoffman, Renee Zewellger Giovanni Ribisi and Natalie Portman.
Throughout his journey Inman is told he "has a purpose" and yet by the end we are none the wiser as to why this soldier is saved time and again when all about him drop like flies.
While the film is visually sumptuous - as you would expect from Minghella - it suffers from an abundance of clichés and a storyline that we have seen a thousand times before in a thousand different ways. Indeed, it suffers terribly by the inevitable comparison to 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' as both share Homeric themes and a bluegrass soundtrack. Minghella has managed to bring nothing new to the mix.