Ride With the Devil

The only thing most people want to know about the Ang Lee's new movie Ride With the Devil is 'how was Jewel's acting?' Well, more on that later. Ride is the new movie from Lee, who sumptuously directed Sense and Sensibility and chronicled the American family in The Ice Storm. Taiwanese born Lee does a capable job with the Civil War story, based on Daniel Woodrell's novel Woe to Live On. The story focuses on the efforts of four people in the midst of the war. They live in the South, though they are not necessarily Confederates. They live in Missouri, near the frontlines of the war, and are fighting for themselves and for their own land. Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire, Pleasantville, The Cider House Rules) is of German descent. His parents are pro-Union, but he just wants his own life back to normal. Together with his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich, Chill Factor, The Newton Boys), they join the Bushwhackers, Southerners who are fighting for themselves. Their primary antagonists are the Jayhawkerss, Northerners in a situation similar to theirs.

The Bushwhackers are led by Black John (James Caviezel, The Thin Red Line, Any Given Sunday), a charismatic tactician. Roedel and Chiles also meet George Clyde (Simon Baker, Sunset Strip, L.A. Confidential), his former slave Holt (Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat, Critical Care), and the unstable Pitt Mackeson (a devilishly evil Jonathan Rhys-Meyers of B. Monkey, The Loss of Sexual Innocence). Time passes, the war continues, and winter arrives, forcing the Bushwhackers to separate and spend the winter with various sympathizers. Roedel, Chiles, Clyde, and Holt hole up in the woods behind an estate and meet Sue Lee Shelley (Jewel), the widowed daughter-in-law of the owner.

The story, adapted by James Shamus, is detailed but overly long, especially since the story is a little hollow. This is more due to the performances than the script. Maguire (the current 'it' boy in Hollywood), even with long, unkempt hair and stubble, still manages to display an 'aw-shucks' quality that undermines some of the more serious aspects of his character. Jewel (who also contributes a song to the soundtrack), in her acting debut, is not bad, but is not good. She is clearly a novice at this, looking and sounding awkward in many of her scenes. However, if she continues to land roles, this will most likely disappear. Wright does the best out of the group, and has the most compelling character. Holt maintains a sense of nobility throughout the entire movie, despite the prejudices of his own allies. Though somewhat predictable, his personal story is the most fulfilling.

Lee again demonstrates his master eye for the camera. The battles are intense and violent, with many brutal scenes played up close, driving home the horror of war. When the mood slows down, the lush scenery takes over, and Lee has the opportunity to shoot over both winter and summer. Lee's attention to detail is extraordinary. Everything from the simple run-down shack where Roedel spends the winter to the complex battle scenes are meticulously set up, paying off in the form of visual eye candy. Lee even assigned a reading list to the actors, to help them acclimate themselves to the era and their roles. If you are willing to sit through some of the slower parts, Ride With the Devil is probably worth a shot.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad
2 hours, 18 minutes, Rated R for graphic war violence.

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