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'Cold Mountain' of Awards? - January 5, 2004

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

It's a new year, and you know what that means in Hollywood ­ time to put out the Oscar bait.

There are, of course, scads of promo posters already out there. You know the kind, with actors in dramatic poses, wearing expressions that are supposed to show depth and angst but look more like Jessica Simpson tackling the SAT.

Yes, we're all used to the typical Academy Award hype. But this year the dance is more Pee Wee Herman than Ginger Rogers. And nobody's shaking Oscar tail feather quite like Miramax.

There's a method to snagging a nomination or three. Start with a critically acclaimed and sufficiently maudlin bestseller. Find an industry admired and dignified director. Add a cast that already boasts of winning some of the coveted statuettes. And, oh yeah, make sure the screenplay includes ample use of accents.

Last but not least, throw in the mandatory politically correct subplot. It's been an important part of the award-seeking package ever since Dustin Hoffman graduated.

Well, "Cold Mountain" has it all. And the key players appear to have their acceptance speeches already prepared.

Director Anthony Minghella has meticulously engineered what is an impressive piece of cinema. The film is an adaptation of the National Book Award winning novel by Charles Frazier.

The story is engaging. When a Confederate soldier (Jude Law) gets shot in the neck, after being hospitalized he takes a long walk home. He faces harsh elements, and a number of vigilantes who seek to kill him.

Most of the flick has his character trying to get back to the woman he loves (Nicole Kidman), a minister's daughter he met just before leaving to fight the North.

Did I mention that it helps to have a lead actress who's beautiful? Like Vivien Leigh, Nicole Kidman looks downright stylish while suffering through the Civil War. Here's where the PC subplot pops in. The film calls attention to the strength and integrity of females over the failings and brutal antics of males. It's a message Hollywood loves to tell: Men, bad warmongers. Women, good peace-seekers.

Unfortunately, when it comes to dramatic performance, the film has a clinical quality. The acting is noticeable and so are the accents. Much of the film comes off as, well, cold.

The residents of North Carolina probably think so. The real Cold Mountain is situated in western North Carolina, but this Civil War epic wasn't filmed in the Tar Heel State, much less the U.S.A.

Minghella actually rounded up his Hollywood entourage and headed for Romania. Filming the movie on the real terrain where the story actually unfolded would have had the added benefit of giving an economic boost to the area. Instead, Romania reaped the fiscal advantages of the shoot. Kidman and Law play introverted characters who seem to have great difficulty expressing themselves. Consequently, other characters appear more interesting in the film. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays an eccentric crooked clergyman who perks up the screen. But Renee Zellweger is the one who really steals the movie with her Beverly Hillbillies Young Granny character. She's funny, warm and alive.

She's also the best bet that Miramax will actually realize its ambitious goal and mine some of that Academy gold.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2004
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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