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Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are friends in Missouri when the Civil War starts. Women and Blacks have few rights. Jack Bull's dad is killed by Union soldiers, so the young men join the Bushwhackers, irregulars loyal to the South. One is a Black man, Daniel Holt, beholden to the man who bought his freedom. They skirmish then spend long hours hiding. Sue Lee, a young widow, brings them food. She and Jack Bull become lovers, and when he's grievously wounded, Jake escorts her south to a safe farm. The Bushwhackers, led by men set on revenge, make a raid into Kansas. At 19, Jake is ill at ease with war. As his friends die one after another, he must decide where honor lies. Written by
According to Jewel Kilcher, director Ang Lee cast her as Sue mainly because of her crooked teeth, which he thought looked like the teeth a poor woman living in the 1860s would have. See more »
When Jake complains of losing the upper-half of his pinky finger, the brace holding down the top joints of the actor's finger is briefly shown as the camera pulls in on his hand. See more »
On the western frontier of Missouri, the American Civil War was fought not by armies, but by neighbors. Informal gangs of local southern Bushwhackers fought a bloody and desperate guerrilla war against the occupying Union Army and pro-Union Jayhawkers.
Allegiance to either side was dangerous. But it was more dangerous still to find oneself caught in the middle.
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Taiwanese director Ang Lee, whose previous films include 'Sense and Sensibility' and 'The Ice Storm', turned to the American Civil War for his latest feature. Based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell, it follows the exploits of a group of Southern guerrillas, known as bushwhackers, as they fight their Northern equivalents, the jayhawkers in the backwater of Missouri.
As one might expect, there is plenty of visceral action, but the focus is on the tension that the war put on the young men who fought it - many of whom were fighting against their former neighbours and even family. Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) is such a man, or rather, boy, as he is only seventeen when the war reaches Missouri. He is the son of a German immigrant, but instead of following his countrymen and becoming a Unionist, he joins his lifelong friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) and rides with the bushwhackers. Despite a lack of acceptance because of his ancestry and an unwillingness to participate in the murder of unarmed Union men, he remains loyal to the cause. So does his friend Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), a black slave freed by another bushwhacker and so fighting for the South.
Lee handles the subject with aplomb, never rushing the deep introspection that the plot demands in favour of action and this lends the film a sense of the reality of war - long periods of boredom and waiting interposed with occasional flashes of intensely terrifying fighting. The action is unglamorised and admirably candid, recognising that both sides committed a great number of atrocities.
The performances are superb, with Maguire and Wright both courageous and dignified. Up-and-coming Irish actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers is particularly chilling as a cold-blooded killer, while Skeet Ulrich is enjoyably suave and arrogant. Lee never flinches from the reality of war, but his actors do an admirable job of showing the good that comes from it - the growth of friendship, the demonstration of courage and, on a wider scale, the emancipation of oppressed peoples. Ride With the Devil is a beautiful and deeply compassionate film that regularly shocks but always moves the audience.
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