Before he passed away at the age of 46, Philip Seymour Hoffman starred in 52 feature films. Starring roles, character pieces, chameleon work—he left a legacy nearly unmatched in both quality and quantity. Now, with P.S.H. I Love You, Jonah Koslofsky wafts through the cornucopia of the man’s offerings.
As much as P.S.H. I Love You exists to celebrate Philip Seymour Hoffman’s work, it’s quickly gaining another function: a showcase for actors who won Oscars for terrible performances. Remember a mere seven months ago when Renée Zellweger won Best Actress for Judy? Well, that actually wasn’t her first Academy Award – brace yourself for her turn in Anthony Minghella’s Cold Mountain.
It’s safe to say that Zellweger’s trophy came from Harvey Weinstein’s notorious awards muscle rather than the quality of her performance in this expensive, historical epic. Minghella seems to have learned all the wrong lessons from his prior work, the two-hour-and-twenty-minute, still-pretty-good The Talented Mr. Ripley. Even longer, and even more “prestigious,” seventeen years later Cold Mountain is a bloated, entirely flat romance, complete with an added dose of Confederate redemption.
With blonde hair and blue eyes that would make any white supremacist smile, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) is a true southern belle. In 1861, Ada moves with her father (Donald Sutherland) to the North Carolina town of Cold Mountain. Minghella and Kidman imagine Ada as the Scarlett O’Hara of the Miramax era, as she quickly starts exchanging steamy glances with William Inman (Jude Law). He’s one of those “men of few words,” a real strong and silent type.
Just as “sparks” start flying between Ada and Inman, war breaks out! Inman in-medietly enlists, ready to fight and die for the Confederate States of America. He nearly does, too: in the opening sequence (the beginning’s told through flashbacks), Inman gets gravely wounded at the Battle of the Crater. Disillusioned, he deserts, and starts working his way back to the titular Cold Mountain.
Meanwhile, Ada’s dad dies. Sad! Without anyone to help around the farmstead, she hires/takes in Ruby Thewes (Zellweger). Chewing the scenery and playing to the rafters (landing far outside the theater), Zellweger’s “country” accent and hick impersonation are as far from convincing as an actor can get. I’d call “Ruby” a cartoon character, but that seems like an insult to the many believable cartoon characters with actual depth.
In some ways, Zellweger’s doing the job done by Hoffman in Ripley: entering the film around the middle, her swagger is meant to perk up the picture. But when the prior hour of Cold Mountain has felt so, well, cold, a mountain woman tumbling into frame just doesn’t click with everything else we’ve seen. Imagine if Amy Schumer just rolled into Pride and Prejudice and started doing a completely different schtick. I mean, an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice isn’t going to sink or swim whether or not Amy Schumer’s in it – without her, Cold Mountain would probably still suck, but Zellweger doesn’t make the movie any more bearable.
On his way back from the battlefield, Inman runs into all sorts of people, except he never meets any people-of-color that would make him rethink fighting for slavery (as it’s written, he’s just mad he’s on the losing side). In fact, what’s Inman’s stance on owning other people? Or Ruby, or Ada’s? Where are the slaves in Cold Mountain? I suppose the idyllic Appalachian homestead wouldn’t be quite so appealing if it was presented accurately, or if we saw it from a non-white perspective.
Anyway, Inman bumps into Reverend Solomon Veasey (Hoffman). The good preacher is trying to kill a slave pregnant with his child, and Inman heroically exposes him to his parish. But then Inman crosses paths with Veasey again the next day, and the pair go on the run together. They escape, and then get captured. As Inman breaks free, Veasey’s shot.
Hoffman gets a bit more to do here than his usual supporting parts: his character experiences a real transformation, as he goes from hypocrite to disgraced hedonist. When we first meet Veasey, he’s truly pathetic and reprehensible, but Hoffman manages to turn him into comic relief by the time he and Inman are clowning around the woods. Cold Mountain doesn’t redeem the preacher entirely (probably for the best), but I can’t say I was too impressed with Hoffman’s work here. As in The Ides of March, the actor blends into his surroundings instead of standing out. Hoffman’s asked to play a few different notes, but none make much of an impression.
Before too long, Cold Mountain leaves P.S.H. behind, as the tedious narrative trudges onward. Much of Inman’s journey feels episodic, none of his stops along the way home particularly essential. The only standout happens when Inman stumbles on a lonely widow (Natalie Portman) and her son – their time together is shockingly tender and effective. Inman makes it home for the tearjerker of an ending, but then the film’s fallen apart completely. These days, movies like Cold Mountain aren’t quite as ubiquitous at awards season – that’s for the best.