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 more of medieval romances: the distended treatment of time, the chivalric ethos, the witchlike crone who restores the hero's health. 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. With Donald Sutherland, Kathy Baker, Brendan Gleeson, Eileen Atkins, and Giovanni Ribisi. R, 155 min.