Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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I’m still jealous of author Charles Frazier whose Civil War novel was a literary sensation in 1997. Cold Mountain was successful because it had something for everyone. Civil War battle scenes, allusions to Homer’s The Odyssey, survival, loneliness, and love. The novel contained a kaleidoscope of quirky characters. Then came the movie version in 2003.

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This was a Civil War film that appealed to everyone. What a stellar acting performance by Renee Zellweger who won an Oscar for best supporting actress. With an Appalachian setting, the distinctive bluegrass sound enhanced Cold Mountain much like it helped the Coen Brothers film, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000.

Eccentric characters intersect the lives of two love-lorn protagonists Ada and Inman played by Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. Ada is a young Charleston socialite and companion to her dying father. Educated beyond the expected norm, her life is free to pursue reading, needlework, drawing, and the piano. When her father dies, she is left to fend for herself on the 300 acre farm. Enter Ruby, a forceful young wildcat the neighbor hires to aid Ada in the running of the farm. Ruby is the opposite of Ada. Uneducated, self-reliant, and assertive, she is a perfect foil to Ada. The two become a dynamic duo, a feminine force of efficiency.

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Inman is a wounded deserter after surviving the Battle of Petersburg. He walks for hundreds of miles to return to Cold Mountain, NC, back to Ada. Along the way, he meets philosophers and oracles. A blind man imparts wisdom. An old hag surrounded by her herd of goats rescues Inman and nourishes him back to health. What makes the movie outstanding are the guest performances by powerful actors. Each vignette showcases an ethical dilemma. Take Natalie Portman who appears as a single parent whose baby is dying. Alone in her cabin, she faces invasion and rape. She is completely convincing and her situation is heart-wrenching.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman plays one of his best roles as a decrepid preacher whose lustful passions get him into a lot of trouble. He’s the comic relief showing the absurdity of man. He’s hysterical.

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Charles Frazier’s motley crew were funny and complicated. It is the type of story that captured my heart in many ways. The setting of the mountains, the music, the historical accuracy of the war scenes, and especially the characters. This was a novel I wish I had written, and for a nice change, the film was just as good as the novel. Watch for the crows. They’re important.

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