Ride With The Devil follows four people who are fighting for truth and justice amidst the turmoil of the American Civil War. Director Ang Lee takes us to a no man's land on the Missouri/Kansas border where a staunch loyalist (Skeet Ulrich), an immigrant's son (Tobey Maguire), a freed slave (Jeffrey Wright) and a young widow (Jewel) form an unlikely friendship as they learn how to survive in an uncertain time, in a place without rules and redefine the meaning of bravery and honor.
Great period pictures make you feel as if you've stepped into another era, heard its language, breathed its spirit, and come away with a fresh perspective on that time as well as your own. Ride with the Devil
is one of those special films--why wasn't it more widely embraced by reviewers and filmgoers? Did it rely too much on our patience for slow accumulation of unforced rhythms and meanings (as opposed to The Patriot
, which "moved" audiences with cattle-prod simplicity and manipulation)? Ride with the Devil
--smart, handsome, tenderly awed by how individual lives get ambushed by history--is ripe for rediscovery.
The Civil War of battlefields and plantation houses is nowhere to be seen here. Instead we see the war as an improvised and largely blundering but very bloody feud among neighbors in the border state of Missouri. In this bucolic war zone--more than a little reminiscent of the Balkans in the late 1990s--the Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee (Sense and Sensibility) traces the destinies of several young Southern bushwhackers (guerrilla fighters) as they experience violence, the seasons, and different kinds of love. Skeet Ulrich draws the aristocratic glamour role (and top billing), but he's overshadowed by Tobey Maguire as a first-generation American, the magnificent Jeffrey Wright (a shameful oversight at Oscar time) as a freed slave fighting beside his former master, and singer Jewel in a very natural acting debut as the young widow who graces all their lives. The title The Birth of a Nation was already taken, but by the end of this movie you feel it would have applied here. -- Richard T. Jameson