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With: Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel (Jewel Kilcher), Jeffrey Wright, Simon Baker-Denny, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, James Caviezel, Tom Guiry, Tom Wilkinson
Written by: James Schamus, based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell
Directed by: Ang Lee
MPAA Rating: R for graphic war violence
Running Time: 138
Date: 09/09/1999

Ride With the Devil (1999)

1 Star (out of 4)

Civil Bore

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ultimately, Ride With the Devil does for Civil War movies what 1991's Mobsters (with Christian Slater, Patrick Dempsey, and Richard Grieco) did for gangster movies. I fear that audiences, and especially Academy members, will sit through this movie and convince themselves that they've seen something truly inspiring or even well done.

The movie opens with expositional dialogue -- characters explaining to each other exactly what's going on with the American Civil War -- so that viewers who flunked history will know what's going on. Not that it helps. Ride With the Devil focuses on a group of landowners who form their own militia, realizing that joining either the North or the South would not help them one bit. Our stars, Tobey Maguire (The Cider House Rules) and Skeet Ulrich (Chill Factor) ride around and get into battles. Unfortunately, thanks to sloppy photography and editing, we can't see who's shooting who. Or perhaps the problem is that the soldiers are played by a truckload of Hollywood pretty boys and they all look alike. At least Maguire, as our "leading man," sports a much shorter beard than his comrades so that he stands out, somewhat.

Some reviewers have praised the look of Ride With the Devil, which attempts to emulate the famous Matthew Brady Civil War photographs. But, Buster Keaton did this 70 years ago with The General (1927), and did it with more grace, style, and clarity (not to mention humor).

I was flabbergasted that the writer of Ride With the Devil was James Schamus, who is Lee's usual screenwriter -- the perceptive author of The Wedding Banquet (1993), Eat Drink Man Woman (1994), and The Ice Storm (1997). Perhaps this is a writer who is best at looking at microcosms and not large sprawling epics. But I still find it hard to believe that the stilted dialogue in this picture came from the same pen. As for Lee, it's interesting to imagine the different ways he could have lent his Asian perspective to the American Civil War, as he did to the Victorian drama Sense and Sensibility (1995), but instead all he brings is the notion that he has seen a few other Hollywood Civil War movies (Gone With the Wind, Glory, etc.) and copied them.

As for the acting debut of Jewel, she is by far the best thing in the movie. Not that she's a Meryl Streep or anything. It's just that she's by far the best thing in this horrible movie.

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