Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Performances I Love: Natalie Portman in Cold Mountain

By Sati. Wednesday, December 26, 2012 ,

 If I had my way they'd take metal altogether out of this world. Every blade, every gun. 

While I don't consider Natalie Portman to be an especially gifted actress, occasionally she is capable of giving wonderful performances. She truly shined in Closer and thanks to perfect casting and incredible support from the director Darren Aronofsky, she created mesmerizing work in Black Swan. One of the performances of hers I especially adore is her heartbreaking work in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain.

Cold Mountain is an average film, but it has some great things in it - one of them is an incredible cast - there are so many great actors here and all of them get their chance to shine. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Brendan Gleeson and Giovanni Ribisi all make memorable appearances but there is one short performance that steals spotlight from all of them and from three leads of the picture - Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Academy Award winning role by Renee Zellweger. And that performance is Natalie Portman as Sara.
Set during American Civil War, the movie follows deserter who tries to make it home to see his beloved. His name is Inman. As he travels and he meets different people and sees many atrocities and debaucheries of war, we follow him. He finds himself on the small farm owned by Sara. She is a young widow, left completely alone with her small child, who is currently ill.

Sara is kind and as soon as she sees Inman doesn't mean her harm, she feeds him and helps him. At night she asks if she can lie next to him in bed, just to feel the closeness of someone who "doesn't want anything more from her". Soon we get to understand the horrific meaning behind these words. The soldiers come on the farm and try to extort livestock from her, by lying her little baby, already ill, on the cold ground. After she agrees to give them the last animals that are her only hope to survive, one of the soldiers brutally rapes her. It is clear that things like this have happened to her before.
Inman manages to kill the rapist and goes outside to talk to the other soldier - the young man (Cillian Murphy) who covered the baby with his coat, but was so afraid of his commending officer he stood oddly by as Sara was threatened and raped. Inman is prepared to let him go, the soldier thanks him and starts walking away. Suddenly Sara emerges from the cabin, covered in blood and she shoots him dead, with the vengeful, cold look on her face. Years after seeing the movie, that look on Portman's face is what I remember best.

Portman's work is so effective for two reasons. First, she is perfectly cast. She has such an innocent face and combined with the kindness of her character it makes it so hard to watch the terrible things that happen to her. Second, her story is easily the most disturbing in the whole film. There are plenty of horrible things happening in Cold Mountain, but Sara is the most tragic character.

Once happy with the husband who took care of her, she is now alone, after he dies and she will never see him again. Delicate young girl with a small baby, living in the small cabin, she needs to take care of herself. And she keeps being harassed and violated by ruthless soldiers - something that finally kills her kindness.

I know many people were upset when she killed the kind soldier, but was he really kind? Is someone who does a small, decent thing when something horrible is happening a good person? He didn't stop what was going on. He might have been hungry and maybe even good natured, but I was so glad when she shot him, which was probably the first time she felt justice was done during that war.

Things get even more bleak, unfortunately - in the original script, Inman stays with Sara to help clean up after the encounter with the Union soldiers, but Sara’s baby dies and a grief-stricken Sara shoots herself. This is one of the deleted scenes on the DVD. Considering that I was already horrified by what was shown in the movie, I'm glad that they spared us seeing this scene in the theatrical version of the film.
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19 comments:

  1. I always thought that was one of Natalie's underrated performances. Re-watches of this film made me realized how flawed this film was. There were stuff that I liked and the scene with Natalie was among one of the best. The way she killed Cillian Murphy... damn.

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    1. I agree, one of the reasons I started the feature was actually to include underrated performances like this one. I didn't like the film when I saw it, it was decent but other than for ensemble nothing great.

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  2. One of my favorite movies, despite how long it is. Natalie Portman's scene with the child is chilling and always raises the hairs on my arms - definitely underrated performance in such an epic movie!

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    1. Glad you liked the movie so much! That scene was so horrid and tragic, I hate whenever something happens to the baby.

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  3. I haven't seen this movie yet. It's a shame it just average, because the novel was terrific.

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    1. I didn't read the novel, but the film, even if it's not great is worth seeing - the individual story arcs and sequences with supporting characters are quite remarkable.

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  4. Great write-up! I remember liking her in the film, but I haven't seen it in years. Really need to give it another look at some point.

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    1. Thank you! The film isn't the best but the acting is amazing in it, I think it's enough to warrant a rewatch :)

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  5. You know how much I love Portman, so this blog post makes me happy. Glad you liked the performance. Portman and Law should work together again.

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    1. I'm glad you like it! Natalie was really great here, her and Law had lovely chemistry together.

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  6. I'm not familiar with the movie, but I believe Portman power. She looked intense and all out.

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    1. She was really great here, one her best performances!

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  7. Thank you for this post.
    I have the movie but haven't seen it yet because I am not sure I am going to like it...but Cillian is a cameo there and this is the only movie where he has a part that I haven't seen (I even went to the cinema to see Tron with 2minute Cillian's scene).

    You described Portman role so well here and makes me want to see it now.

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    1. He is in it for about a minute, but the film is worth seeing, it has a lot of great actors in it.

      Thank you, I hope you will like the film if you decide to see it!

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  8. Great post, Sati. I haven't seen this one yet but glad to hear there are great performances to watch out for. Natalie looks quite different in this one, sounds like an intense performance. I quite like the overall cast here, too.

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    1. Thanks! If you like the cast you should check it out - the ensemble is definitely the strongest thing in this one.

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  9. It's weird that I feel like I want Inman to end up with Sara instead of Ada. Inman and Sara have little scene but they got the most amazing chemistry there. I wish I could re-write the story, Inman live together with Sara and leave Ada. LMAO

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    1. I agree their chemistry was very good. Kidman and Law didn't seem to click in this one.

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  10. Glad to see you highlight Natalie Portman's underrated work in this movie.

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