It’s Independence Day here in the US, which, for most people, means fireworks, hot dogs, and widespread revelry. It’s also a time for national reflection, and to look back on America’s young and sometimes turbulent history. In the cinematic realm, this reflection typically transpires in one of two ways: either a sweeping, expansive look at an inflection point in American history (think The Birth of a Nation, or The Best Years of Our Lives), or a more focused, intimate approach — one that attempts not to capture a war or conflict in one felt swoop, but to use this event as a backdrop against which a story unfolds.
Cold Mountain, Anthony Minghella‘s 2003 Civil War film, certainly falls in this latter category, masterfully striking a balance between the epic and the personal. The War itself plays a critical role in the film, driving the actions and decisions of both Inman (Jude Law) and Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), but Minghella, like author Charles Frazier, deftly restricts the scope of his film, resisting the temptation to extrapolate too far beyond his characters. As a result, the audience is left with a fictional, yet powerfully visceral glimpse at what America’s darkest hour may have felt like, and at the human wreckage it left behind.
Here’s how The Washington Post‘s Stephen Hunter described the film in 2003:
“Cold Mountain,” directed by the subtly spectacular craftsman Anthony Minghella, is one of those films that might be called “complete.” It has everything, in the best possible way, but most importantly, it has a coherent, if tragic, view of life and society. It builds a world, takes you into it, makes you feel it; it tells a story, makes you love the characters, and pulls you through life, love and death. It’s funny, it’s heartbreaking, it’s scary, it’s exhilarating. It’s got love stuff and lots of laughs and cool gunfights. It’s really long and it feels like it’s over in 15 minutes. It does something so few movies do these days: It satisfies.