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From the December 1999
Film Review

Film Review Hotline

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL
4 Stars
How far from Kansas are we again?
It ain’t right, it ain’t wrong, it just is.
STARS: Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright, Jewel, James Caviezel, Jonathan Rhys Myers
DIRECTOR: Ang Lee
SCREENPLAY: James Schamus
CERTIFICATE: 15 DISTRIBUTOR and Picture copyright: Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 2hrs 20mins
OPENING DATE (UK): November 5

After such varied triumphs as The Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, Ang Lee crafts another gem with seemingly effortless skill.

Delving back into a turbulent part of American history, Ride with the Devil charts how former childhood friends Jake Roedel (Maguire) and Jack Bull Chiles (Ulrich) become embroiled in the Civil War in the early 1860s. The two teenagers are from Southern families on the Kansas/Missouri border and join the ragbag of soldiers known as Bushwhackers who fight the Unionists from the North.

For different reasons, both young men’s fathers are killed. Through the hard winter months the pair hide with a splinter group in a remote dugout. As they are told, “The best of us are dead and now we’re just dogs chased into the woods.” Chiles woos a local widow, Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel), while Roedel finds an unexpected kindred spirit in Holt (Wright), the former slave of fellow compatriot Clyde (Simon Baker).

Each character is an outsider of some kind. As he encounters the ingrained racism applied to Holt, Roedel begins to question whether the Southerners’ cause is worth fighting for. His fate forms the crux of Ride with the Devil and Maguire (The Ice Storm, Pleasantville) excels in this pivotal role along with the endearing Ulrich (Scream) and Wright (TV’s Homicide). Singer Jewel, meanwhile, brings an admirable sensitivity to this, her acting début.

Calling upon the considerable talents of contributors such as cinematographer Frederick Elms (Blue Velvet) and composer Mychael Danna (The Sweet Hereafter), Ang Lee touches on a range of complex emotions. The conflicts here are as much moral as military and though the film often has a mournful tone, the script is rich with wry observations and witty dialogue. It’s a priceless scene when the men first see Sue Lee and dally around her with awkward politeness.

Not so much a war movie, at its peak this pastoral, contemplative film strives to find wisdom in the chaos of combat. While its gruelling battles reach the thunderous heights of The Last of the Mohicans, Ride with the Devil steers an intimate, humanitarian path that’s closer to The Thin Red Line. An excellent film and a high-calibre achievement all round.

Ian Calcutt

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Reviews © Visual Imagination Ltd 1999. Not for reproduction.
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