Movies

Ride With The Devil (1999, Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire)

Ride With The Devil

While the Civil War has long fascinated American filmmakers, only a handful of films have looked at the conflict from the point of view of the South. Ang Lee’s film Ride With The Devil takes on the challenge but in doing so takes a slightly askance view of the conflict. In Missouri, never the scene of mass battles or major conflict, the Missouri Irregulars, also known as the Bushwhackers, fight the Union troops, the Jayhawkers. Both sides occasionally meet in a scrimmage but most of their action is against those they see as sympathetic to one side or the other, often just farmers and tradesmen.

Lee’s film concentrates on four Bushwhackers: Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire), Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), George Clyde (Simon Baker-Denny) and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), the last a slave freed by Clyde who remains with his ex-master out of personal loyalty. While action bookends most of the film, the centre is almost calm as the group winter up in a cabin on the land of sympathetic farmers. This is where Chiles falls in love with war widow Sue Lee Shelley (the singer Jewel) while the others talk about their motives for supporting their cause – often more a case of disagreement between neighbours of differing views than passionate belief in the Confederacy. But as spring approaches, so battle must commence again.

Taiwanese-born Lee, after reflecting his background with films such as Eat Drink Man Woman , went on to direct a very British Sense and Sensibility followed by the very American The Ice Storm (and, after this, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and this is an equally fascinating view of America’s history from a fresh eye. There is little sense of grandeur or history in the making but instead a gripping look at how events sometimes dominate people rather than vice versa. Lee is superbly served by his young cast, with Maguire and Ulrich outstanding while Wright, stunning in Basquiat, uses expressions and gestures to flesh out his sparse dialogue to create a complex, fascinating character. Honours also to Jewel, who is most definitely not a rock star indulging a hobby and, of course, to Lee.

USA / 1999

Director: Ang Lee
Writer: James Schamus, based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel

Cast: Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire, Simon Baker-Denny, Jeffrey Wright, Jewel, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, James Caviezel