Well, as I promised recently, I finished watching the DVD of Cold Mountain, a film based on one of my favorite books in the world.
This is not one of my favorite movies in the world.
I know I’m about two years late to the trashing party for this movie, so I don’t think I should bother going into much detail. The fact that this film is a disappointment is not news. I’m not sure if I have any original complaints to add, but maybe I can at least vent a little of my personal fury by making a couple of points about this film:
First, the performances were as bad as everybody told me they would be. Nicole Kidman and Jude Law didn’t come across as actors so much as dress-up dolls reading lines from a script. Renee Zellweiger managed to have some fun with the role of Ruby, but beyond that every performer was stiff and artificial. I was particularly disappointed in Donald Sutherland, who was supposed to be playing Ada’s father, Monroe, but was instead apparently playing Martin Sheen playing Robert E. Lee playing Monroe. Ever hear of method acting, Sutherland? What the hell is your motivation?
Secondly, the script left out most of the great moments in the book, and when they left one in they usually screwed it up. For instance, there’s the sad moment at the end of the book when the old drunk fiddler and his mentally challenged banjo-playing friend face a firing squad. In the book, the banjo-playing kid compulsively grins as he faces the firing squad, which unnerves them so much they make him put his hat over his face. The author does not explain this, but it seems as if the kid is smiling because he’s not used to getting so much attention, and is maybe even impressed to find himself facing something as “serious” as a firing squad. It’s a tremendously human moment, an example of the kind of compelling and original psychology that permeates this book. In the movie, they act out this entire scene, smile and all … except here the kid is smiling because he thinks they’re going to take his picture. So much for poignancy.
Finally — after sitting through the film, I tortured myself further by watching the special features in the two-disk DVD set. There is a film of a live concert featuring “The Music of Cold Mountain”, made even worse by a number of phony-humble between-song speeches by several of the filmmakers. You should not attempt to watch this special feature under any circumstances, at the risk of great boredom and pain.
Want to know what’s coming up next in the bad-literary-films category? Well, nobody’s seen this one yet, but it just doesn’t look promising.