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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
After German boy is told his father was killed, there is a brief scene of a woman standing in a doorway. The door has modern day machine-made lace. 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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Easily 9 out of 10 for a film by director we will continue to grow to admire. But don't watch this movie expecting to be "entertained." Ang Lee takes an objective look at a relatively unexplored aspect of the Civil War. What is beautiful about the movie, like all of Lee's films, is that he doesn't "side" with his characters. He creates characters, embodies them with life, problems, and ambiguity ... and endows them with a reality that often hits far closer to home than with which many are comfortable. This film has action, but it is not for the action lover since the violence is deeply disturbing and far from gratuitous ... i.e. like the characters, it is real. And as you would expect about one of mankind's most horrific wars, the violence is horrific.
But as an exploration of the greater human ambiguity that surely dwelt within the Civil War, it is a masterpiece. Was the war about slavery and an abolitionism? Lee seems quite willing to blur that line made so popular in depictions like the Blue and the Grey. Neither is about idealism, though, as seen in Gone with the Wind. It is about freedom, about the desire to have something which is yours and to fight for it. As you watch the characters, you will ask yourself "how can they be fighting to preserve slavery?" The fact is, I don't think they really are, and in that the film shows the problem of why so many were caught up in the maelstrom of the Civil War.
The fact seems clear that many of the characters we learn about are fighting out of senses of loyalty to "home" though they may never have examined what home represents or whether they truly espouse its values. The letter scenes are very moving and yet subtle. Jake and Daniel are other examples of loyalty stretched to the limits. And when the tension finally snaps, and these characters find themselves suddenly "free" ... we see the birth of new men.
All this mixed in with Lee's beautiful incorporation of humankind's environment with breathtaking vistas and frames. Lee has a style which is his, somehow European in its "art" (a slow camera, unrushed), Asian in its epic-ness and development of story, and yet somehow familiar and easily accessible to so many in North Americans.
Relax, let go of your preconceptions about what the Civil War is, what the "western" as a genre is, what a war movie should be ... and let Ang Lee take you into a world so fragile, so hard, so real that few of us can comfortably see it.
In this, Lee continues what he wrought in Ice Storm. Again, the movie is slow paced and without apparent "direction" ... a sure sign of Lee's ability to direct without "imposing" himself on the story or screen. His direction is amplified by what he brings out of Jewel (yes, the singer), a hitherto unproven actress who puts in an amazing performance.
A movie for those who love film and are not lovers of the standard Hollywood epic.
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