“Just ‘cause you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there…”
– Radiohead

Love and art go together, always have. Seriously, at least one out of every two songs is about love, and every other book or movie has some amorous sentiment in it. One of the most extreme manifestations of love in art is the big romantic epic, in which people overcome impossible obstacles to win over, win back or simply be reunited with their sweetheart. More often than not, though, love is presented as a given; we’re told two characters are deeply in love, and that’s that. But what if love isn’t an absolute? What if what you feel isn’t “true love” but an infatuation for the sublimated image you have of someone you don’t actually know all that much? Just ‘cause you feel it, doesn’t mean it’s there…

Inman (Jude Law) and Ada (Nicole Kidman) are in love, or at least they think they are. They’ve only run into each other a few times, but something clicked right away. Chances are this is just lust and time would show that they’re not meant to be with each other, he the strong silent worker, she the educated Southern belle, but they didn’t have the luxury of time. The Civil War broke out and all able men were called to go fight the Yankees, Inman included. As such he and Ada were separated for years, with only one passionate kiss to remember each other by.

It might not be love, but it’s something to hold on to, a beautiful fantasy to escape to when reality becomes too harsh. The horrors of war are all around Inman, but the memory of Ada keeps him going. Back home in Cold Mountain, where the absence of the men leaves women with nothing but untended crops and worries, Ada also needs to lose herself in foolish romantic hope. “This war is lost on the battlefields and lost twice over by those left behind.”

One day, Ada sends Inman a letter in which she pleads for him to come back to her. And so he leaves the ranks of the Confederate army and the fight for a cause he doesn’t believe in, determined to reunite with Ada even though he knows that deserters are hunted down like dogs. Meanwhile, Ada is joined by Ruby (Renee Zellwegger), a no-nonsense country girl who’ll school her in getting her hands dirty and working on her dead father’s farm.

The film cuts back and forth between the two lovers, linking them through naïve but touching narration by Ada. When you combine the way voice-over is used and the film’s lyrical, somewhat contemplative feel, it’s no surprise to hear that director Anthony Minghella aimed to channel pictures like Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line. While “Cold Mountain” isn’t quite that brilliant, it’s certainly a gorgeously crafted, memorable piece.

Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are as beautiful and affecting as they’ve ever been and they’re surrounded by a greatish supporting cast, led by the force of nature that is Renee Zellwegger’s Ruby. She’s funny, over the top yet convincing, a wildly enjoyable creation in which Zellwegger completely disappears. Then there’s Philip Seymour Hoffman as a lascivious preacher, Natalie Portman as a lonely widow, Brendan Gleeson, Ethan Suplee and Jack White as grass-roots musicians, Giovanni Ribisi as a trapper…

Howard Hawks once defined a good movie as “three great scenes and no bad scenes.” Here we get a breathtakingly violent battle sequence, a scene in which Law’s Ulysses-type comes upon tempting Sirens, the heartbreaking scene in which Portman’s baby is taken from her – that’s three already and I could list many more, not to mention all of the third act. “Cold Mountain” is a good movie and then some. I feel it, and in this case I think it’s there.