Based on a novel, directed by Ang Lee, Ride with the Devil (1999) is a savage, engaging Civil War movie. It shows us the bloody confrontation between Missouri loyalists to the South and Union occupiers—and I do have several questions about it. For example, what do the Confederate loyalists, known as bushwhackers, do to prevent insubordination, such as that committed by the film’s main character, Jake (Tobey Maguire)? Nothing, it seems.
There is naturalism in Ride, even if not exactly enough. Anti-black racism exists but it wanes pretty easily (as, again, in Jake). Thematically the film is about the assault of war on individuals. The battle and shoot-’em-down scenes are splendidly electric, conflict, as James Bowman says, looking “real in its messiness, its confusion, its pointlessness.” The characters, moreover, grip the attention, and how quickly we lament that fierce assault on individuals I just mentioned. Though no great history lesson, Lee’s effort is close to being one of his best films.
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