With a trio of photogenic stars, a top-shelf crew and outstanding writer-director Anthony Minghella on board, Cold Mountain tries valiantly to match the epic sweep of Charles Frazier's novel, which won the 1997 National Book Award. But it lacks a clear understanding of what the book is about, and that's a problem.

Cold Mountain is both a Civil War love story and a spiritual journey. The romance is between a shy Confederate soldier named Inman (Jude Law), who deserts the rebel army and heads home after being wounded in battle, and the lovely Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), a girl he met only briefly before the war, but who promised in a moment of tenderness to wait for his return.

This anticipatory romance leads to two separate adventures: Inman's long trek through the southern countryside, where he must prove his moral worth as a man, and Ada's growth as a woman, which is helped along by the resourceful Ruby (Renee Zellweger), a mountain girl who moves in with Ada to teach her about the bounty of nature and the value of hard work.