Anthony Minghella makes beautiful movies, and Cold Mountain, a romantic odyssey that unfolds amid the storm of the Civil War, is stunning to watch even as it portrays man's cruelty. Cinematographer John Seale, who also shot Minghella's ''English Patient'' and ''Talented Mr. Ripley,'' makes Jude Law and Nicole Kidman positively luminous on screen -- even on DVD -- and the battle scene at Petersburg is as vividly compelling as any action sequence from last year (outside of Middle-earth, that is).
Law plays Inman, a wounded Confederate deserter who begins the arduous journey home in hopes of fulfilling the promise of a kiss. Kidman is the elegant Ada, the preacher's daughter left ill-equipped to survive before meeting Renée Zellweger, who rode her best Minnie Pearl impression to an Oscar. Between the two lovers lie hundreds of miles of treacherous terrain and a series of colorful characters.
But Minghella, who also wrote the screenplay, is the general of this campaign: Although he admits in one of the three bonus featurettes that he may have been the least qualified person to make a movie about the American Civil War, the Brit-born Italian took an international cast to the hills of Romania and emerged with an all-American tale of love and war that should satisfy even devout fans of Charles Frazier's novel. Deleted scenes, like Inman's return to Ada's farm and the vengeful mutilation of Union soldiers, reinforce that Minghella -- who swore ''never to do another adaptation of a big book'' -- has become a master of just that.