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 mens 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 were 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
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 (TVs Homicide). Singer
Jewel, meanwhile, brings an admirable sensitivity to this, her acting
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. Its 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 thats closer to The Thin Red Line. An excellent
film and a high-calibre achievement all round.