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RIDE WITH THE DEVIL

SYNOPSIS:
During the American Civil War a guerrilla war is fought on the Kansas-Missouri border. Pro-Southern gangs, known as Bushwhackers are engaged in hit-and-run raids on Union soldiers (Jayhawkers). Joining the Bushwhackers are German immigrant's son Jake Roedel (Toby Maguire), plantation owner's son Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), Southern gentleman George Clyde (Simon Baker) and Holt (Jeffrey Wright), Clyde's former slave who fights for the Southern cause out of loyalty to his former owner. Hiding out on the property of a sympathetic family during winter, their vigil is brightened by the visits of war widow Sue Ellen Shelley (Jewel). The fighting recommences, finally drawing Jake and Holt together as both begin to question their roles in the bloody conflict.

"It is probably inconceivable to many in the 'new world' that the right to fulfil oneself, the right to be equal to absolutely anyone and the right to infinite personal freedom - are all rights that have been recognised as universal only since the American Civil War. The damned Yankees won "not only territory," writes Ang Lee in his notes to this production, "but in a sense, a victory for a whole way of life and thinking." And, he adds, "we learn to respect other people's freedom, too, even as we lose a certain connection to tradition." Here is a man, Lee, raised in Taiwan, soaking up the lessons and residues of the American Civil War, a war in which, by a strange irony, another man with his surname, General Robert E. Lee, played a significant part. But you won't meet the latter in Ride With the Devil; Schamus' screen adaptation of the Woodrell novel focuses on people at the fringes of the war. Not that their experiences were any less dramatic, traumatic and deadly. But they are more personal - as distinct from military or economic. And the result is a (slightly overlong) film of exceptional power and haunting characters that takes a different view of the conflict, a subtle exposition of how a young man changes and grows through the hell of it. Tobey Maguire creates another memorable and credible character as Jake, surrounded by the equally superb Skeet Ulrich, Jonathan Brandis, Jeffrey Wright and Australian star-in-the making, Simon Baker. Lee takes no sides, his attention focused on the issues of humanity that the war raises - and has still left unanswered. Freedom and its expected handmaiden, happiness, are not simple objectives that are within easy reach of the entire American society. Lee's subtlety in identifying these issues underpin this excellent, engaging and exciting film."
Andrew L. Urban

"A fascinating history lesson and potent drama, Ride With The Devil is another triumph for director Ang Lee. By fixing his sights on a small corner of the Civil War, separated from official battlefields, Lee and regular screenwriter James Schamus have fashioned a moving and intense study of conflict fuelled less by ideology than by personal animosities among neighbours. Parallels with modern guerrilla wars in Nicaragua and The Balkans immediately come to mind as the devastating effect of friends and even family members turning on each other is played out by a fine cast armed with intelligent material. The story of these boys forced to take arms by circumstance and expectation is marked by beautiful moments of humanity and compassion which generate sympathy for characters fighting for a cause most audiences would not agree with. Jake's reading of stolen mail around a Bushwhacker campfire, his encounter with a neighbour now held prisoner by the Confederacy and the romance between Chiles and Sue Lee are vividly contrasted with the indiscriminate bloodlust working its way through Bushwhacker ranks, most notably through the sadistic actions of Pitt Mackeson (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) and Black John (James Caviezel). War is hell and Lee doesn't shy away from its graphic nature while staging some spectacular battle scenes, particularly the Lawrence Massacre which prompts the awakening of Jake's conscience. Ride With The Devil may not seem too appealing to audiences without an interest in the subject matter but the journey of its richly detailed characters offers rewards worth seeking out."
Richard Kuipers

"Cinematic and visually lush, Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil is a moving and absorbing historic Civil War drama that reinforces fighting for freedom and what you believe in. Lee's fascination in the changing of society and people's reactions is put to task in this beautiful wide-screen saga, which captures not only the adventure, tragedy and spirit of the Civil War, but brings it to life through real characters for whom we care. There's a sense of carefree recklessness that makes these renegade soldiers almost cowboy-like, in this story of friendship, loyalty and patriotism. And it's a far cry indeed from the emotional undercurrents of The Ice Storm, the restraint of Sense and Sensibility or indeed the frivolity of The Wedding Banquet for this exquisite filmmaker. The violence is graphic and there are certainly moments that I turned my head away. On this large backdrop of war, the screenplay succinctly draws us to the personal drama of characters from very different walks of life. The simplicity and truth of the comment made by Holt at the beginning of the film 'One mother is much like another', when hearing a letter from an unknown soldier read out loud, resounds the very essence of humanity. Lee's sense of detail extends to the excellent and interesting cast. Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich are a welcome contrast in styles, while Jeffrey Wright with the soulful eyes holds most of the emotional keys. Songbird Jewel makes an appealing, feisty Southern gal in her screen debut, with Jonathan Rhys Meyers wonderfully repulsive as the villainous Pitt. It could be argued that the 138 minute running time is a little long, but it's a rewarding experience, and certainly a cinematic one."
Louise Keller

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

TRAILER

RIDE WITH THE DEVIL (MA)
(US)

CAST: Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire, Jewel Kilcher, Jeffrey Wright, Simon Baker, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, James Caviezel

DIRECTOR: Ang Lee

PRODUCERS: Robert F. Colesberry, Ted Hope, James Schamus

SCRIPT: Daniel Woodrell, James Schamus

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Frederick Elmes

EDITOR: Tim Squyres

MUSIC: Mychael Danna

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Friedberg

RUNNING TIME: 138 min

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 22, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

VIDEO RELEASE: January 23, 2001







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