Ride With The Devil (1999) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

This Civil war epic treads along some of the same ground as the Clint Eastwood classic, "The Outlaw Josey Wales", moving southward and eastward only a bit to feature the portion of the war that took place in southern Missouri instead of the Kansas-Missouri border skirmishes. Missouri was a slave-holding state, and was the only such state to fight with the Union, so the government of Missouri had somewhat less than 100% support in this decision.

Southern Missouri was the setting for bloody skirmishes between Jayhawkers (Union soldiers officially supported by Missouri's government) and Bushwackers (guerillas fighting for the Confederate cause).

But this was only a backdrop for a personal story. The boys fighting here are not embroiled in speculation about global issues.

Perhaps the gentlemen of Savannah fought for the right to maintain their way of life without outside interference. Perhaps some northerners fought for the abstract issues like the rights of man and the preservation of the union. But these boys choose sides based upon which neighbors they like, or who mistreated their friends' fathers.


Jewel breast-fed a baby. Small parts of her aureolae were visible.
So the movie is less about principles of the Civil War than it is about how real people act in wartime - how the violent find a way to justify their barbarism; how "causes" become ways to rationalize family feuds and avenge personal hostilities. If you look at it that way, this portion of the Civil War was no different from the war in the former Yugoslavia. And that's probably a valid point. This movie is as much about the Balkans as it is about Missouri. Maybe more so.

The movie uses an unusual convention. It assumes that the stilted formalism of the written language of that time was reflected in speech, even amongst the ploughmen and smithys. Valid or not, it lends an otherworldly characteristic and period feel to the action, but it makes it seem slow, stilted and cerebral. It has a way of taking the emotion out of the speech and couching everything in subtle suggestion. And I'm not sure if that makes sense, because the real message here is that the whole thing was really about personal emotions, about guys burning their neighbors' farms and stealing their cows and raping their womenfolk, and the other guys making lists of who should die in the name of vengeance, and slaughtering them in their sleep.

If you are studying the Civil War in school, this is probably a wonderful way to get a feel for the manners and thoughts of the era. It has been praised for its accuracy, and the film doesn't romanticize the actions or motives of either side. The photography is impressive, and the quiet, subtle score is quite effective. Ang Lee is the same man who directed Crouching Tiger, so you know he knows his music and visuals.

But I warn you. With its conventionalized dialogue, langorous pacing, and 138 minute run time, this is one slow-moving film. I haven't missed the point. I understand that war is a lot of waiting and freezing, and not that much action. But when a filmmaker chooses to dramatize that point, it doesn't make for an easy watch because we, like the characters, spend a lot of time waiting for something to happen.

Rent "Josey Wales" instead.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 2.35:1. Looks fantastic.

  • Jewel music video

Ya gotta love the variety in Ang Lee's films. No chance he'll be stereotyped. If you watch several of them, it's difficult to identify any common elelments, other than the polished craftsmanship.

By the way, Jewel did fine in her screen debut.

Not sure if she plans to be an actress or a singer, but it appears she could be successful at either. She's not actress-thin, and her natural crooked nose and awkward dentition were actually a period advantage in this role, since 19th century Missouri wasn't known for its orthodontics, rhinoplasty, or health clubs. You might say she was the only one with a realistic 19th century look. Not to mention some major league yabbos.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: 2.5 stars. Ebert 2/4, Berardinelli 3/4, Apollo 67, Maltin 2.5/4.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 67% positive overall, but only 53% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.8, Apollo users 74/100. These scores are consistent with the critical consensus.
  • With their dollars ... a disaster. Despite some good reviews, the film proved completely uncommercial. Took in almost nothing at the USA box office, less than a million dollars, despite a $35 million budget.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+. Great craftsmanship, but too slow to be of interest to mainstream moviegoers. Avoid it unless you are interested in the subject.

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