Ride With the Devil (1999)

Genres - Drama, War  |   Sub-Genres - Period Film, War Drama, War Romance  |   Release Date - Nov 24, 1999 (USA)  |   Run Time - 140 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Josh Ralske

Ang Lee's Ride With the Devil is a morally complex Civil War Western with flashes of brilliance. Unlike Lee's subsequent film, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the genius of this film is found not in the action sequences -- which are appropriately chaotic and bloody -- but in the moments of quiet drama, wherein the characters and their disparate motivations are discovered. This is a film, after all, in which the heroes are bushwhackers, murderous guerilla fighters for the Confederate cause. At its core, it's a film about two young men, Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) and Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), who fight out of loyalty to their aggrieved friends, and who discover what they truly believe in as they witness the ravages of war and the hopeless brutality of fighting for ideals that are already obsolete. Jake is a pensive young man whose German family is on the Union side, while Holt is a former slave whose freedom was bought by George Clyde (Simon Baker), the man he now fights beside. Lee, as usual, gets strong performances from his cast. The film drags occasionally, but is at its strongest in quiet moments: the hush that comes over the bushwhackers as Jake reads an intercepted letter from a Union soldier's mother, or the dinner table conversation between Jake, Jack Bull (Skeet Ulrich), and Mr. Evans (Zach Grenier), a Southern gentleman who calmly explains why the Confederacy will lose the war. The script, by Lee's frequent collaborator James Schamus, does an excellent job of contrasting the thoughtful openness of Holt, Jake, and Sue Lee (Jewel) -- a slave, a foreigner, and a woman who finds a way to see past their own oppression, poverty, and personal loss -- with the burned out, despairing rage of characters like Pitt Mackeson (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Black John (James Caviezel).