Plot: What’s it about?
Although it not well known, some of the most brutal and bloody battles of the Civil War took place near the Kansas/Missouri border. In the midst of these violent clashes are groups of people who have banded together on their own to fight these battles. The men in these groups were often friends and neighbors who wanted to do their part to ensure victory for their side, though they weren’t a part of the official military. One such group is even more diverse than most though and consists of a rich, arrogant loyalist Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) and his friends Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) and George Clyde (Simon Baker), along with a freed slave Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright). These men travel alone at times, but also venture out with other bushwhacker groups at times also. While the group is protecting a Southern family from attack, they meet a young widow, Sue (Jewel) and she seems to connect with Jack Bull right away. With the war raging on all fronts and the battles becoming more and more brutal, will these friends be able to overcome the odds and survive?
I missed this one at the theaters, but was interested because of the basis within the Civil War so when I sat down to do this review I was looking forward to it. While the movie turned out to much different from what I expected, I was very pleased with the results nonetheless. This is a war movie so there are some visceral battle sequences, but the main focus lies within the characters and their relationships instead of the war and its outcome. This is still a brutal and blood laced film though, so don’t view this if you’re squeamish or hate the sight of the red stuff. While some might call it excessive the blood is vital to the film, as it places the brutal and realistic tone to the atmosphere in which these characters live. This is not an uplifting tale in the traditional fashion, but it does provide more than a few inspiring moments to be sure. Mixed with the scars of war and emotions is some well placed humor, which keeps it all from digging in too deep and brings some relief at times. I recommend this movie as a rental all those who love grand scale tales of war and the people who fought in them, though a purchase would suit fans much better.
This film was directed by Ang Lee, who has a short but impressive list of films and delivers yet another solid effort here. This is somewhat of a departure of previous works, Lee captures the feel of a war torn era very well and handles the battle scenes equally as well as the more conservative ones. As with any war based film you need solid in battle scenes and Lee makes sure this film has some well planned and executed ones. But Lee has also made sure to create am immersive atmosphere outside of the battles, so the audience never bores of the characters and events. If you want to see more movies by Lee I recommend The Ice Storm, Eat Drink Man Woman, Pushing Hands, and Sense And Sensibility. This film centers on four characters, who are played well by the chosen actors. Skeet Ulrich (Scream, Chill Factor) still seems to lack the poise and timing to be a solid actor, but he does an adequate turn here, though little more. The other leads are played with a little more skill by Tobey Maguire (Empire Records, Pleasantville), Jewel (as in the musician), and Jeffrey Wright (Presumed Innocent). The supporting cast includes Jonathan Rhys-Meyers (Titus, B. Monkey), Jonathan Brandis (Outside Providence), and Simon Baker (Red Planet, L.A. Confidential).
Video: How does it look?
Ride With The Devil is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. This is a perfect example of how to make a movie look, as I could find no problems at any time with this transfer. The source print looks near pristine and never shows wear signs, while the compression seems flawless with no artifacts I could detect. Colors are bold and vibrant, with no smears or oversaturation and flesh tones glow with natural warmth. The black level shows no contrast issues, as detail is high at all times and shadows are rich and complex. It just doesn’t get much better than this.
Audio: How does it sound?
This release includes a Dolby Digital 5.1 track which will offer you a tremendous experience, especially when the battles kick in. The action driven sequences will have your sound system working overtime to be sure, with all the speakers pulsing with powerful audio. You’ll feel like you’re manning a musket yourself when the bullets buzz right past you. The more subtle audio comes through well also, but not nearly as cleanly as the more powerful stuff. The musical score fits the film well and this mix conjures up a rich and enveloping sound for it. The dialogue never gets lost in this though, it sounds crisp and clear with no volume hiccups I could find.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The Universal usuals such as production notes, talent files, a theatrical trailer have been included, but in a nice gesture they have also included the music video for Jewel’s “What’s Simple Is True.” I would have loved an Ang Lee commentary or behind the scenes documentary, but we can’t win them all…