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Cold Mountain

Minghella reverts to the lush, epic style of The English Patient with this adaptation of Charles Frazier's acclaimed American Civil War novel. This is an intensely personal story that catches two vivid perspectives of wartime with an almost eerie timeliness. Inman (Law) is away from his North Carolina hometown Cold Mountain, fighting the Yankees in a brutal, horrific 1860s battlefield. He longs for the chance to go home to his sweetheart Ada (Kidman), who's waiting for the war to be over, tenaciously surviving with the help of the feisty Ruby (Zellweger). And everyone is trying to avoid the ruthless Home Guard officers (Winstone and Hunnam) as they use any method imaginable (and some that aren't!) to find deserters. It's a very dark time for America, yet even in the depths of despair everyone tries to find a glimmer of hope somewhere. Even if it's just for a moment.

This is the kind of filmmaking that takes your breath away with its majestic beauty and human grittiness. Filmed in Romania, the expansive landscapes play as vital a role in the story as the characters, representing the seemingly impassable obstacles between war and peace ... between death and love. Kidman is excellent as a spoiled city girl forced to learn the ways of the land ... and of her own heart. Law gives his strongest performance yet as the thoughtful Inman; he has very little dialog, but speaks volumes with his face and physicality. Zellweger is fantastic in a role that's both the scene-stealing comic relief and the voice of earthy honesty.

And the cast is filled out with gifted bit players: Hoffman as a priest with women problems, Portman as a lonely young widow, Sutherland as Ada's churchman father, Gleeson as Ruby's violin-playing dad, Baker as a friendly but nervous neighbour, Ribisi as a frustrated farmer, Atkins as a wild mountain woman, and so on. These characters bring out the story's Odyssey-like structure brilliantly, propelling the action and forcefully defining the central characters. The only false notes are some wobbly accents from the international cast ... and Kidman and Zellweger's impeccably plucked eyebrows, perfectly highlighted cheekbones and sumptuously tousled hair. Still, this is first-rate filmmaking, from Minghella's understated script and liquid direction to John Seale's graceful cinematography and an elegant score by Gabriel Yared and T Bone Burnett. A real stunner of a movie with something important to say.

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