Eye For Film >> Movies >> Ride With The Devil (1999) Film Review
Ride With The Devil
Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray
War invokes heroic gestures and strong emotional ties. By the end of Saving Private Ryan, you know all Tom Hanks' squad intimately and care about them.
It isn't the same with Ang Lee's American Civil War epic. These guys are not heroes. Some are psychopathic killers, others young men caught up in a doomed romantic struggle, not entirely sure what they're doing, or why, and you never get to know them that well. Rather than follow the army, as in Glory and Gettysburg, to its inevitable noble slaughter, this chronicles a nastier aspect of civil conflict - ragged bands of guerrilla fighters who operate in Missouri and Kansas, away from where the big battles are being waged, shooting anyone suspected of collaboration, always careful to retain their sense of Southern honour by sparing the women.
The film is about failure. It stays with a group of four, as they settle into a burrow, dug into the side of a hill, for the long, cold winter. Occasional raids occur, in which wounds and death result. A farmer's daughter (the singer, Jewel) provides succour and, for one, the son of a plantation owner (Skeet Ulrich), a little more. Snow falls.
Later, in the spring, they join a larger band of horsemen and lay waste a town, murdering many innocent people and burning the place to the ground. The futility of it is matched only by the horror.
There are arduous stretches, between ill-organised sorties, in which conversation dries in the mouth. You are seldom certain why old men and store keepers are killed and others not.
Comparison with Bosnia is striking. The difference is that Lee makes it look beautiful. A few of the actors, notably Jeffrey Wright as the freed slave Holt, make their presence felt, but not enough. Without moral purpose, warfare becomes anarchic, bloodthirsty and unsustainable.Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
If you like this, try:The Patriot