Part of the problem this time around relates to the sort of star turns that Brother blessedly lacked. Dominating the spotlight is the White Stripes' Jack White, who has a role in the film as a nomadic musician who becomes Renée Zellweger's main squeeze. Whereas Zellweger gives perhaps her nuttiest performance in Mountain, acting as if she were auditioning for a role in a Reba McEntire sitcom, White comes across as doughy-faced and ineffectual, and this same sense of sluggishness pervades his five songs. A related malady afflicts "The Scarlet Tide," co-written by Burnett and Elvis Costello, and "You Will Be My Ain True Love," a Sting composition that was nominated for an Oscar because -- well, because Sting wrote it, apparently. Without the proper respect, he might get all Tantric on your ass.
The biggest problem, though, is a severe shortage of exuberance. Whereas Burnett's earlier effort burst with energy even during mournful moments, Mountain limps along at a laggard pace as though all involved were fearful that the slightest sign of joy would detract from the seriousness of the enterprise. Musically, Cold Mountain is a rather barren place that never climbs high enough to justify its pretensions. Oh, brother, indeed.