Ride with the Devil (1999)
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Director: Ang Lee
Cast: Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel Kilcher
Synopsis: On the fringes of the Civil War, Missouri Bushwackers engage in guerrilla warfare with Union Jayhawkers. Bushwackers Jake Roedel and Jack Chiles, out to avenge the murder of Jack’s father, are joined by George Clyde and his former slave.
Call me old-fashioned, but I like situations to be resolved in a movie – and too many loose ends are left hanging in Ang Lee’s overlong and overblown Ride with the Devil: an anticipated showdown fails to materialise; a trust betrayed is simply forgotten, never to be mentioned again after its disclosure. Ok, such things are true-to-life – but this is a movie, and we expect to see some revenge and closure.
What we don’t want to see is a token black man inserted into a rag-tag gang of pro-confederate desperadoes to satisfy the modern requirement that our movie heroes be conspicuously PC. Confederates fighting against a faction aiming to free black men from Southern slavery? Of course they’ll accept a black man into their midst without raising an eyebrow. Daniel Holt’s (Jeffrey Wright – Hunger Games, Broken City) reason for fighting against those seeking to free the slaves? A family member of his former master, alongside whom he now fights, bought his freedom. Please.
Race with the Devil’s threadbare plot dawdles and wanders on a 138 minute ride that really should have taken only 105; yet, despite this lengthy running time and leisurely pace, the depth of characterisation never goes more than skin-deep. The two characters who survive the numerous skirmishes, we learn early on, are really only drawn into the situation by their loyalty to others, and once the subjects of their loyalty die both characters quickly become disenfranchised from the cause. One becomes aimless, conforming with society and allowing himself to be manipulated by the family that take him in. The other undertakes an improbable – and probably impossible – search for his mother. Their final – shockingly awful – scene together, which is played in a way that displays their renewed self-belief and pride, is like something from a 50s B-movie western or The Little House on the Prairie. Its awfulness is compounded by the fact that, having spent more than two hours with these people, I really couldn’t care less about them.
It’s a handsome film, perhaps too handsome at times considering the era, people and locations it describes. The dialogue is rich and detailed, but, like the film itself, is too slow and drawn-out to sufficiently hold one’s interest.
(Reviewed 1st February 2002)