62 of 66 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2004
Possibly. But even if some people disagree, there is no denying that it is a fabulous movie. It moves along with a grace and ease that many films of this genre cannot manage. While it is Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ullrich who share the top billing, starring as two teenage boys who become Bushwhackers (Guerilla soldiers who fight for the southern cause along the Kansas and Missouri border during the American Civil War) after Ullrich's father is killed and his house burnt down by Northern Jayhawkers, this is really Maguire and Jeffery Wright's film. Maguire's character is of German descent, a thing out of the ordinary amongst the White Anglo-saxon Protestant southerners, and as such is viewed with suspicion (and in one case downright hostility) by many of the men he is fighting alongside, something that his German Father warned him would happen. He also harbours his own prejudices however, especially against a freed Negro (Wright) who is fighting with them, but as the film moves on Maguire begins to look at events through a different perspective. The acting by all the leads is exceptional, but it is Maguire and Wright who must take most of the plaudits. They are both outsiders, thrown together fighting for a cause, that by all natural laws they should be fighting against. Their changing relationship, from suspicion on Maguire's part to acceptance and then finally to deep friendship is the core of the movie. Ullrich, Jewel (who plays a young widowed southern women romanced first by Ullrich and then Maguire) Jonathon Rhys-Meyers (as a psychotic Jayhawker) and Jim Caviezel (as a southern commander) all turn in first rate performances, but it is Maguire and Wright who really drive the movie along. It is an intelligent, thought provoking, moving, amusing, uplifting and sad movie. Basically the kind of movie that mainstream Hollywood tends to shy away from, and unfortunately, the kind of movie that mainstream audiences tend to pass over. This is a great pity, because Ride with the Devil deserved to take a bucketload of Oscars and a barrowload of Dollars at the box office, which it did neither of.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Ride With the Devil is an intelligent film that follows more the way a great novel would, rather than a shoot'em'up blockbuster. That means total attention to detail, realistic dialogue and characterisation that makes one understand these people who are on the run for their lives.
We've all known that Ang Lee could direct, for most that would start with his 'Sense & Sensibility', which shocked an awful lot of people, for a Taiwanese to turn in such a great film, his first film In English and about that elitist of film genres - the English period drama. For some of us others, who've tried to check out his earlier stuff, there's his excellent 'The Wedding Banquet'. I've yet to find a region 2 copy of his 'Eat Drink, Man Woman', though, unfortunately.
After 'Ride With...' many many more found his favour with 'The Ice Storm' and then legions more with 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'.
Anyways, 'Ride With the Devil' will always find more favour with the Sunday evening older population than the popcorn brigade as the film goes at its own pace, not ours. It's not hard to keep up with the measured pace but does require some concentration. For those that do can be rewarded with a textured story of depth, that is also beautifully filmed and well acted. There are no special effects, CGI or tricks of any kind. A rousing score by Mychael Danna adds musical dynamism.
Old fashioned?, well, yes, but this is history and that in the hands of Ang Lee does not mean boring. An underrated film.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2004
If you want a war film of the black hawk down genre, then give this a miss. It's message will probably pass you by just as it surely did with the negative reviewer below. Highlighting the amputation scene as "the best bit" says it all. Its a protrayal of civil war played out at it lowest level, with neighbour fighting against neighbour and how that ultimatly affects peoples perceptions, loyalties and relationships. Excellent acting and a truly plausible scenario sensitivley portrayed.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Set firmly in the border fighting in Missouri and Kansas during the American Civil War this is the sort of film that gets called lyrical but you may find slow. There's no faulting its period feel with the two parties (we ride with the South in this one) engaging in an extended form of Border Reiving. This means not only featuring the famous raid on Lawrence by Quantrill but also the grubby existence of the guerrillas through the winter hiding out in a wood and earth shelter. Running through the killing and burning is a soap opera story line to remind us of the real impact of war and the realities of life on what was still something of a frontier.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2006
Outsanding movie that will linger on in the mind long after the final scenes. Vivid brutal portrayal of Civil war and how it steels men souls and compels them to do terrible things in the name of cause. Maguire is excellent, he portrays a farmers son who along with some friends conduct a clandestine war on behalf of the Confederacy. In the course of the movie he loses close friends, becomes disillusioned with war and violence and in the process becomes a man. Some of the imagery is breath taking, the acting excellent, surley one of the greatest Civil war movies ever made and a beautiful love story to boot. No idle sentimenet just a cracking movie that continues to delight on more viewings. Movies dont get much better than this.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 13 April 2010
A fantastic film in all respects, but most especially considering the language. The script, based on the amazing novel by Daniel Woodrell ("Woe to Live On"), tries to reproduce some of the speech patterns and rhythms of the real nineteenth century. When you add to this authentic clothing and weapons, a rattling good yarn (it ends with the atrocities committed by Quantrill's Raiders at Lawrence, Kansas), and some excellent acting, this is a must-see film. Lee manages to capture what looks, sounds and feels like an authentic slice of nineteenth century life. Especially good are the scenes where the raiders read out some letters captured from the Yankees. Expecting intelligence, instead they get a look at the humanity of their opponents. Or the scene with Jake and his friend talking about how they will identify Jake's body should he die ("That there is nubbin-fingered Jake"), and the scene where Jake gets married, partly against his will, and the scene where Jeffery Wright, a slave, explains why he is fighting alongside Jake and the others.
As to the reviewer who says there are no sub-titles, please note that his comments apply to the old Universal DVD. The new Criterion blu-ray not only is a director's cut (148 minutes as opposed to 138 minutes theatrical version), it also includes English sub-titles.
The only thing I would say is, the film is quite realistically violent. It isn't dwelt upon, and there are no slo-mo leaps or bullet hits, but it is violent. One final word, the the reviewer who compared it unfavourably to "Black Hawk Down": this is not a war movie, it's a movie about war. Big difference. Remember too, it takes place in the 1860s. "The past is another country; they do things differently there."
More a 0.5
The photography and the settings are superb, with those wide panoramic shots of Missouri and Kansas. These lands were vital lands, fought over during the Civil War without the codes of armies. Just gangs of young men going on the rampage in general sympathy for a cause, forever fighting for their right to kill others. There were two main issues for me, even without the plot holes which I will explore, the main characters were just not engrossing enough and the story line was just pure revisionism.
American films, around 95%, have standard emotional codes written into them, whether it is Iron Man, Incredible's or Scooby Doo, due to the endemic racism festering within the country.
A standard requirement states, the ending must reflect hope and not nihilism. The viewer therefore knows the grand finale from inception. Gone with the Wind, made in the 1930's had more emotional realism attached to it.
America is bound within the throngs of emotional illiteracy within the populace, highlighted by those celestial strings forever plucking on an emotional tug throughout the film. Overplayed, over sweet and over loud, the music became dominant and then just overpowering as it cascaded as sugary maple, drowning the narrative and when fully digested it just became cloying.
These epics do not create a stage narrative about past events, instead they play a public information role, doused in the soporific effect of mass entertainment, forever bringing modern harmonics to pave over the wide gulf between skin pigment in the Disunited States. Every film seemingly has an inter-racial buddy scene, whatever the plot, and this film is no different. Tying it in, just appears racist revisionism rather than a picture of historical reality, because the film's rationale has been lost and then history has been puffed up into digital smoke. Perhaps the point of history is that it can be rewritten, that there is no truth or narrative, just a collection of stories recast into beliefs. This is the Hollywood way and each generation imbibes upon their lot to learn from Los Angeles their cultural myths, whether cowboys or cops and robbers.
To try and undertake this cultural set piece, the film employs a black character, who is part of the Confederacy. The militia unit, famous for its attacks on civilians was known as "The Bushwhackers." Despite the wooden nature of the lead, the actors within the unit are superb and this is where it ascended. But then the story chunders ahead until the wheels finally drop off, due to the strange viewpoint taken by the director and the scriptwriters. The Confederacy fought for the right to keep black people in chains. Southern Confederacy was founded on endemic racism and yet here we have the inter-racial buddy scene replayed within the middle of the film as if this racist violence which consumed so many years of the USA was of no great issue.
The random killing enacted by the "Bushwhackers" comes across loud and clear, along with with the tit for tat murders of their opposites, the "Jay-hawkers." Apart from the ostracism based on skin colour, rather than the nuts and bolts of slavery, the film, casts its glance at inter-white racism where the Germans/Dutch were seen as suspect, a hundred years after mass settlement. Never fitting into the southern milieu, this made a more resounding point, as previously American studies courses propounded the "melting pot" thesis. As soon as any white folk hit Ellis Island they became inter-American and that was that, but this film shows otherwise.
Where the films drifts again, is when it begins to explore the psychology of "outsiders," those who want to be insiders, one German and one Black male, who seemingly want to be accepted by the rest of the psychos.
Ordinarily they would have had to outperform in individual virulence to be taken seriously into the heart of a psychotic group. These two however underplay their violence and seem to abhor it. All around them scalps of their people are being touted, and they appear caught in nonchalance. Seemingly to be allowed to continue within a killing machine they would have had to prove themselves as outright butchers, perhaps similarly as the boy gangs in Sierra Leone; kill your own people first, then you join us.
The Southerners are portrayed as people who were wronged by northern violence, who took up a cause to stop attacks on their families, whereas the north seemingly had no creed. I just do not buy it.
Who started off the whole process of the blood feud?
The film ducks the question and makes too many apologies to the South, lacking any comprehension about the 1862 mindset. However the film is not wholly black and white, as it shows civilians being shot, black corpses being piled up high and a "Dutch" woman's scalp hitting the card deck table. There are hints of an all out war. Having watched the film and seeing the views expressed by English, Irish, Scots and Welsh folk transplanted into the Confederate state of mind, the reasons for their mindset appear to be invisible. Where did that hatred come from?
Trying to bring a 21st century perspective to the film has distorted history, as the numbers of black men who fought for the south could have been counted on one hand. This is because the ideology that was being fought for, stated it had to be that way.
So the film is really a piece of revisionism, masquerading as reality. A nice romp, but like Ulrich Phillips's famous book, part of "the not so bad as painted" view of reality. I do not know if the writers had to back track in order not to open up old wounds, or if this is the only way a film about the Civil War can garner an audience in the USA, but it missed something vital. It is akin to setting a Jewish love story within a German SS unit, when depicting the actions of the Einsatzgruppen,hardly befitting.
The love story which is also part of the moral code, leading to the child being born also seemed unreal, given the overwhelming culture of morality that prevailed during the era. A woman having a child out wedlock within the Baptist ultra conformist South just appeared gratuitous as the best friend married his friends woman as an act of charity. Perhaps, stranger things have happened, but...these were "bushwhackers" not Boy Scouts. They were ardent killers of women and children who did not fit the creed, despite the play down of the civilian casualties within the film.
So watch the froth but do not imbibe.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
I don`t know how Ang Lee does it. Crouching Tiger...Lust, Caution...Brokeback Mountain...Sense And Sensibility...The Ice Storm... just five of his films, all of them stunning pieces of cinema, each one completely different from the other.
Much as I revere the first two on that list, Ride With The Devil might be his supreme masterpiece so far, a lengthy film (though never outstaying its welcome) of the American Civil War, with a motley band of young people caught up in it, some on the `wrong` side, or on no particular side at all.
The film brings home to the viewer what a messy, dangerous and painful time it must have been, with whole families wiped out, their homes razed to the ground, but what the film eloquently shows too is how it wasn`t simply a case of "Unionist good, Confederate bad", in a story involving mostly southerners on the periphery of the war, never knowing when the next attack from the North is going to arrive, and having to deal with the firebrands in their own midst, none more unpredictable than the gaunt, psychopathic character played, brilliantly, by Englishman Jonathan Rhys Meyers (odd but inspired casting).
All the cast work wonders. Tobey Maguire - an actor I`ve found all too resistible at times - does his best work here, while singer Jewel is subtle and touching as a teenage war widow whose favours are bestowed on more than one of the peripatetic band of men. She surprised me the first time I saw this film, and she still does. A natural, soulful and even witty performance.
Skeet Ulrich, James Cavaziel and Simon Baker are all just fine, and our own Tom Wilkinson has a brief role as one of the many patriarchs who take the men in and give them bed and board.
As the enigmatic slave Holt, who rides with the band, Jeffrey Wright is stunning. This is a performance that should have been nominated at least (the film was all but ignored on release, which is something of a tragedy; one hopes as many people as possible are discovering it on DVD). His final scene is beautifully acted, and, finally free, one longs for him to be successful in finding his ma...
America looks ravishing, the scenes of violence are necessarily realistic and bloody, while the domestic interludes meld with the outdoor scenes seamlessly, giving this great film the rare feeling of real lives being lived in a real place, a real landscape.
Ang Lee surpassed himself with this one.
Do see it.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Ride with the Devil is directed by Ang Lee and adapted to screenplay by James Schamus (also producer) from the novel "Woe to Live On" written by Daniel Woodrell. It stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Simon Baker, James Caviezel and Jewel. Music is by Mychael Danna and cinematography by Frederick Elmes.
"On the Western Frontier of Missouri, the American Civil War was fought not by armies, but by neighbours. Informal gangs of local Southern Bushwhackers fought a bloody and desperate Guerrilla war against the occupying Union Army and pro-Union Jayhawkers. Allegiance to either side was dangerous. But it was more dangerous still to find oneself caught in the middle"
Made for $38 million and intended to be a sweeping epic for the summer blockbuster crowd, Ride with the Devil was a considerable financial flop. With a limited release both in America and abroad, the financial figures are hardly surprising. More so considering it was given next to no promotion by the distributors. Factor in a little controversy about the events featured in the story, some cuts made by the studio (Lee didn't have final cut) and a delay in home release formats because the distributor incredibly wanted Jeffrey Wright's presence removed from the cover art! Well you would be forgiven for thinking that the film has to be something of a stinker. Not so say I.
Part rites of passage drama, part reflective war movie, Ang Lee's film is a grand film viewing experience. Dealing as it does with the often forgotten part of the war down on the Missouri/Kansas border, where Lee also shoots on location, film manages to be both savage and lyrical in equal measure. The savagery comes with the fights, bloody, frenetic and high on potency, while the lyricism comes with the human relationships, internal conflicts and the political awareness of the men (boys) fighting for their cause. All given deft treatment by Schamus, whose screenplay contains crisp period dialogue and a narrative correctly showing that this part of the war was not just driven by racist Dixie's hell bent on revenge, violent lust and political allegiance, but often for family, land and rights. Picture is at pains to let us know the youth of the main characters, ramming home the point of boys forced to become men, killing machines, very quickly. Case in point, the culmination of the violence in the film that comes by way of the Lawrence Massacre, a tragic and upsetting slaughter that saw 180 people murdered under the leadership of a vengeful William Quantrill (John Ales). Lee and Schamus aren't interested in showing heroism in this particular war, they show it as futile, nasty and it leaves the taste of bile in the throat.
From here the film slows considerably, as the lead characters withdraw from the action of war, to awakenings and friendships forming. It's here where Lee is at his best. No great director of action, as evidenced by the previously mentioned Lawrence Massacre; which lacks the cutting edge to really grab us by the throat and never let go, but for human interest aspects and bucolic scenes with characters framed within, Lee owes film fans absolutely nothing. The latter of which he is aided considerably by Elmes' widescreen photography. Ulrich and pop star Jewel nicely handle their parts, he puts a confident swagger into Jack Bull Chiles, she is tender and unassuming in the pivotal female role of Sue Lee Shelley. Caviezel gives Black John Ambrose a brooding menace, while Jonathan Rhys-Meyers is on overdrive as sadistic loony Pitt Mackeson. But it's with Maguire and Wright that the acting plaudits go. Maguire has arguably never been better, he gives Jake Roedel an effective sensitivity as a virginal boy receives a violent initiation into manhood. Wright is sublime, said to be one of his favourite performances, Wright as freed slave Daniel Holt is the heart beat of the film. Conveying most of the good traits available to man, Holt fights not just out of loyalty to his friend George Clyde (Baker), but to gain ultimate catharsis in is life. It's a beautiful measured turn from Wright, and it deserves more appreciative attention.
The last third of it may be too talky for some, and a couple of dangling narrative threads left unanswered stop it from being a masterpiece. But it's close to being just that, a savage, beautiful and lyrical movie. The stupid studio execs had no idea: Putz's. 9/10
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 14 December 2002
A bold film with a cast of virtual unknowns. The characters are certainly more developed than most films we get today. In essence this is a grown ups film and not teenage blockbuster fodder. The film can be compared in genre and scope to 'Glory' starring Matthew Broderick and Denzel Washington. 'Ride With The Devil' doesn't quite live up to 'Glory'. The battles are not as well paced and overall a vital ingredient is missing somewhere. The film doesn't shy away from the brutality of 'irregular' troops who are more often than not organised murderers with only the main leads as sympathetic characters.
I would recommend this film as it certainly holds your attention and it treats the audience like adults. It comes as a welcome relief to the usual shallow stuff we get every summer.