Josh Young and Joshua Rich
December 26, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

Renee Zellweger gives one of the year’s Great Performances

Hey, we’ll admit that she’s jarring at first, stomping her way into Cold Mountain like a rabid old bronco saddled with a thick Southern accent. Heck, she’s darned grating even. But the two-time Oscar nominee grows so perfectly into her role as Ruby, the newfound protector-companion to Ada, Nicole Kidman’s lovelorn naif, that we not only forgive Zellweger for being shrill, we embrace her for it. What’s more, after not too long, we even forget that it’s her. (Is this really the same vamp who tore it up in Chicago? The woman who made us chuckle so bloody hard in Bridget Jones’s Diary?) ”She’s very practical, she’s a survivor,” the actress says of Ruby. ”I’m practical. I like taking care of myself. I think she finds a joy in the solitary nature of her work, and I share that with her.”

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