Site created 12/15/97.
review added: 8/11/00
Ride with the
1999 (2000) - Universal
review by Bill Hunt,
editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
138 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:05:17 in chapter
11), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, production
notes, cast & crew bios, music video for What's
Simple Is True by Jewel, weblink, film-themed menu
screens, scene access (18 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1),
subtitles: English & French
Based on Daniel
Woodrell's 1987 novel Woe to Live On,
Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil
tells the story of a young man named Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire),
growing up on the frontier of America during the Civil War. While
the Union and Confederate armies battle fiercely in the East,
Missouri seems an unlikely place for conflict. But the war is
starting to become personal for a lot of young men like Jake. With
no army to join, loyalists on both sides of the issue at hand are
forming their own armed militias to fight each other - the
Jayhawkers allied with the North and the Bushwackers with the South.
Jake and his friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) grew up as
Southerners, but have no particularly strong feelings about slavery,
right or wrong. Their fear is simply that their friends and
neighbors - their people - are coming under attack.
That fear is born out when a band of Jayhawkers kills Jack Bull's
father in a raid one night. To revenge his death, the two run away
and join the Bushwackers. But the thing about these militias, is
that anyone can join. So in addition to those who want revenge or
believe in the cause, you've got men who just like killing. It
doesn't matter who - anyone who gets in the way will do. And once
revenge has been had, there's only a hollow feeling left and only so
much killing you can witness.
Director Ang Lee is one of those filmmakers whose work I find truly
fascinating. How many directors would devote their energy to such
diverse projects as Sense and Sensibility
and The Ice Storm, then tackle
this film, and follow it up with a much-lauded action/romance film
starring Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh (the forthcoming Crouching
Tiger, Hidden Dragon)? What I really like is the way he
finds the personal stories - especially the unlikely stories - and
brings them to the forefront. Such is the case here.
The acting is surprisingly good, especially Maguire, who we've seen
previously in The Cider House Rules,
Pleasantville and The
Wonder Boys. He brings an interesting measure of
restraint to this role, which gives his character an added and
hidden complexity. Skeet Ulrich is also solid as Jack Bull, but it's
Jeffrey Wright who truly shines as Holt, a semi-freed slave who
fights for the Bushwackers (and thus the South) to help revenge the
death of his white friend/owner's family. His character is by far
the most interesting, and creates a fascinating dynamic among the
other leads and the Bushwackers as a whole. He also bonds closely
with Jake, giving Jake still more reason to question his feelings
and the cause. And even Jewel is good as a young Southern women,
widowed by the war, who becomes a love interest for both Jack Bull
and Jake. Anyone who feared that this would be another Young
Guns can rest easy - these young stars deliver.
Unfortunately, this DVD from Universal leaves a lot to be desired.
The video is good and it's anamorphic, but the combination of the
print quality and the cinematography means that the transfer looks
rather over-soft. You'll notice it right away in the opening credits
and it continues through most of the film (although you do get used
to it). The film also has a rather washed-out color scheme, while
retaining color accuracy, particularly in flesh tones. Contrast is
generally very good, and there's fair detail in the blacks - not
outstanding but it's solid.
The audio fares somewhat better. This isn't the kind of Dolby
Digital 5.1 track that will test all of your surround speakers - you
won't be looking over your shoulder. But the front of the soundstage
is nicely wide, and dialogue and music are well presented. The rear
channels are used mostly for atmosphere, creating an excellent sense
of space in the sound environment. Bass is also solid, and kicks in
well during battle scenes.
It's really the extras that disappoint. You get a trailer for the
film, a few pages of production notes and a Jewel music video.
There's also a page of cast & crew info, where only half of
those listed have biographical information - the leads and the
director. What I really wanted was a commentary track with Ang Lee
or even the screenwriter and the writer of the original novel. It's
the stories and the history that are interesting here, and I would
have liked to hear the filmmakers talking about it.
Sometimes a man will fight for a cause or a noble principle.
Sometimes a man will fight because he has everything to lose. And
sometimes a man will fight because he has nothing left to lose.
These are the ideas explored in Ride with
the Devil, and Ang Lee makes that exploration well worth
experiencing. This DVD is somewhat disappointing, but the film is
good enough to overcome that. If you're looking for an interesting
and rewarding couple of hours with a movie, I think Ride
with the Devil delivers.