Cold Mountain | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Though I admired Anthony Minghella's 1991 feature debut, Truly Madly Deeply, I thought The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley were strenuously overrated. But the director's riveting adaptation of Charles Frazier's epic novel has turned me around again. A wounded Confederate deserter (Jude Law) slowly makes his way back to his North Carolina home and the sweetheart he barely knows (Nicole Kidman). Back on the farm, meanwhile, she strives to cope with the help of a new partner (Renee Zellweger). Some have compared the story to the Odyssey, but I was reminded of medieval romances (the distended treatment of time, the chivalric ethos, the witchlike crone who restores the hero's health), Mark Twain (Philip Seymour Hoffman's rascally preacher evokes Huckleberry Finn), and even Gone With the Wind. Kidman and Zellweger are uncommonly good, and I especially liked the timely treatment of war as universally brutalizing: even the outcomes of battles are ignored, as are the motives behind the conflict. With Donald Sutherland, Kathy Baker, Brendan Gleeson, Eileen Atkins, and Giovanni Ribisi, and a cameo by Jack White, who also contributed songs to the sound track. 155 min. Ford City, Lake, Lawndale, River East 21, 62nd & Western, Village North, Wilmette. Some theaters couldn't provide complete schedules in time for this week's early deadline. Please call ahead or see www.chicagoreader.com/movies for updates and additional theaters.

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