Ride with the Devil (1999) – Ang Lee

 

We get a look at the other side of the Civil War, as we join a Confederate guerrilla campaign in Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil, the next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Red Badge of Courage.

With a top tier cast including Tobey Maguire, Jeffrey Wright, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, Jim Caviezel, Simon Baker, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, and Mark Ruffalo, Lee brings Daniel Woodrell’s novel to life, from a script by James Schamus.

Jake (Maguire) and Jack (Ulrich) are childhood friends in the south, and while there is discussion of the war encroaching on their beloved Missouri, nothing changes their seemingly idyllic lives until the Union arrives, and kills Jack’s father.

The two boys join a group of irregulars known as Bushwhackers, and begin a campaign against the Union army. Against a backdrop of war, love and slavery choices will have to be made about what is right, and its price.

With some beautiful location work, the film pops visually, even if it feels like a story that has been told a few times before. That, and the assembled cast make for enjoyable watching, as we see the Civil War from the Confederate side of things.

Maguire and Ulrich make a good pairing, and there is some fun chemistry between them that is solid and believable as the boys follow one another into war.

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I like how the film is put together, and it looks great, but following in the path of the other films I’ve watched, specifically Glory, this one just isn’t as captivating. Not to say that there aren’t strong things at work here in Lee’s film, first and foremost the performances, and the locations.

I remember when this first came out to home video, and I had no desire to see it, because I don’t recall it ever getting much in the way of a theatrical release in Canada, and embarrassingly, at the time, I didn’t recognize many of the names involved in the film. Whereas now, it seems like a virtual who’s who – though as I watched it, I had to wonder… whatever happened to Jewel?

In addition the relationship between Jake and Jack, I quite like the one that develops between Maguire’s Jake and Wright’s Holt. After their time spent wintering together, hiding from Union patrols, both men see one another, and the world they live in, in a different way.

As friends seem to fall, one after another, Jake is left to wonder about the cost, and how can he want liberty just for himself, especially if it takes liberty away from another?

These civil war films are truly resonating with me right now, as I, along with most of the world, watch the troubling turn in American politics, as hate and vitriol seem to be common currency again, and you have to wonder what the founding fathers would think of both parties and the way the American Dream has crumbled… After all that they fought for.

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