Ride With The Devil

Ride With The Devil follows a young man, Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves his home in Missouri to fight with the Southern aligned guerrillas know as the Bushwackers

There have been a lot of movies about the American Civil War. Most showed the ‘brother against brother’ conflict that tore this country apart. Few have really probed into the toll that the war took on individuals. Ride with the Devil manages to do just that.

Ride With The Devil is based on the excellent book by Daniel Woodrell which follows a young man, Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) as he leaves his home in Missouri to fight with the Southern aligned guerrillas know as the Bushwackers. These young men did not fight a formal army, most often they were in opposition to the northern sympathizers know as the Jayhawks. Jake was the son of a German immigrant whose father, like most Germans, favored the Unionist. Along with his best friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Urich) Jake soon finds himself constantly on the run, killing the Jayhawks and those that supported them. One winter while hiding from the Unionist, Jack Bull and Jake are cared for by a Southern family, which includes a young widow Sue Lee (Jewel Kilcher). Having lost her husband of only three weeks. She needs a man to care for and to care for her. While this may be very politically incorrect now it was a matter of fact back then. Their man defined women and in order to survive a woman needed a husband. Ride With The Devil is not short of violence. There are many scenes that show the utter waste of lives this war produced.

The acting presented in Ride With The Devil is extremely good. As always, Tobey Maguire gives an all out performance. His character, Jake, is confused about life and about his beliefs. He wants to be as sure as those are around him but there are doubts constantly in the back of his mind. Maguire handles this difficult role with skill. He is perhaps one of the brightest young stars on the horizon today. Urich plays a role all too familiar to him, the self assured young jack that believes he has the world in his hand. His performance here demonstrates a maturity his other films did not make possible. The real surprise here was Jewel Kilcher. Best know simply as Jewel, this terrific singer shows she can handle a difficult role with a gentle forcefulness required to make her character more than a cardboard cutout. She makes Sue Lee real. A strong young woman that wants independence but is realistic enough to know that she needs a man to weather the troubled times she is in. Jeff Wright as the free slave who fights for the South, Holt, is amazingly understated here. Strong, persistent and determined he fights out of loyalty to the friend who freed him Holt takes the racial abuse heaped upon him by others.

Ride With The Devil is the third English film for director Ang Lee. He previous movies, the Ice Storm and Sense and Sensibility were both greatly received. Lee has become know as a director that can take on the intricate type of film that pits human emotion against a backdrop of nature at its most beautiful and its hardest. Each scene of Ride is framed with an eye to detail. A pan and scan version of this movie would ruin it. The scope presents the background as a character in its own right. Lee seems to enjoy delving into the depths of the variety of human emotions. His characters show the many facets possible to people in extraordinary situations. The film is able to move from the horribly brutal to the most touching without missing a beat. He manages to give us a movie done for the studios with a true independent feel to it.

The disc is excellent. There is a terrific balance of the surround speakers, especially in the battle scenes. The war comes at you from all sides making you want to seek cover. The sub woofer is not over used but punctuates the action and the emotions. The anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer holds true to color, brightness and contrast. The extras include a music video from Jewel (she does not get to sing in the movie). Ride With The Devil is not only true to the events of the time, it is true to itself. Get it and enjoy it.

Review by Doug MacLean of hometheaterinfo.com

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