Ride with the Devil (1999)

ride with the devil poster 1999 movie
7.0 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Different look at the Civil War

Meandering story

Movie Info

Movie Name: Ride with the Devil

Studio: Good Machine

Genre(s): Drama/War/Western

Release Date(s): November 26, 1999

MPAA Rating: R

ride with the devil tobey maguire skeet ulrich

Are you the Devil or am I the Devil?

War has come to Missouri and the people are choosing sides.  The Bushwhackers believe in joining the South while the Jayhawkers support the Union.  Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) and his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) find themselves fighting guerilla warfare against the Union soldiers while hiding in the forests around Missouri and Kansas.  As the war rages on, Jake and Jack find themselves teamed with George Clyde (Simon Baker), his slave Holt (Jeffrey Wright), and other Bushwhackers who have banded together in the wilds.  The Bushwhackers are fighting a losing battle and Jake is beginning to question his view of the war.

Directed by Ang Lee, Ride with the Devil is a Civil War action-drama.  Following Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm in 1997, the film was released to mixed reviews and bombed at the box office.  The Criterion Collection released a remastered director’s cut of the film which added ten minutes (Criterion #514).

ride with the devil jeffrey wright

He has his own issues

I loved The Ice Storm and I loved Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.  Between the two great films, Ang Lee made Ride with the Devil…a Civil War film that no one seemed to talk about at the time (other than to mention it was Jewel’s acting debut).  Over the years, the criticism has soften to Ride with the Devil.  It is still a problematic film, but it does have some merit.

The story meanders much of the film.  While the film starts out as a “brothers” story of the Civil War with the fight from the Confederate’s perspective, it turns into a story about understanding and personal growth.  Missouri was a strange place in the Civil War with a majority of the people supporting the North, but a strong slave trade and a number of South supporters.  Jake (and Jewel’s character Sue Lee Shelley) kind of switch over the time although they have strong South ties because of their relationship with Daniel Holt.  While it must be a progression, it takes too long to get there.

ride with the devil skeet ulrich jewel

My hands are small…I know…but their not yours…they are my own.

Tobey Maguire and Jeffrey Wright are arguably the leads of the film (though Wright’s character doesn’t show up for a while).  It is their relationship and how it changes that is the heart of the film.  The movie goes a long way to explore the idea that Wright would stay with his quasi “owner” Simon Baker (he wasn’t his true master), and the perplexing relationship between the characters is one of the more interesting aspects of the movie.  Jonathan Rhys Meyers plays a great villain who true loyalties aren’t to the North or to the South but to himself, and Maguire’s character shows a turn from violence to passivity by the end of the film (unlike Meyers who turns to deeper violence and resentment).  The film has a great supporting cast including Skeet Ulrich, Jim Caviezel, Mark Ruffalo, and Tom Wilkinson.  Jewel’s effectiveness could be debated, but it seems more gimmicky than good casting since she does provide a song.

ride with the devil tobey maguire jonathan rhys meyers jeffrey wright

You’re an ass

I do like the visuals of Ride with the Devil.  With so much of Civil War films focusing on the South or East, it was interesting to see a different terrain and different fighters.  Being from the Midwest the setting seemed familiar it was nice to see that Ang Lee chose to shoot in the area he was portraying.  The flora and fauna of the central states are different than other states and it is often breaks the setting when you see a film trying to cover.  In addition, the movie showed the madness of the Civil War with a few hundred people skirmishes where survival simply means shooting more people and reloading quickly instead of some though out military plan.

Ride with the Devil portrays a part of the Civil War that often seems omitted.  This is what keeps the film from being complete blasé and cliché.  The Jayhawkers vs. the Bushwhackers wasn’t really covered in the basic history, and the attempt to portray the story from a different perspective is also worth the watching (including Ang Lee’s outsider perspective).  Ang Lee followed Ride with the Devil with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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