Many films about war are over produced and unrealistic, leaving the viewer either disappointed or with a feeling of dissatisfaction. This is not the case, however, with Ang Lee’s Ride With the Devil. Its strengths are its historical accuracy, choreography and cinematography of the battle scenes, and its uncommon view point from the Confederacy’s perspective, whereas its weaknesses are its lack of character development, sporadic pace, and the unnecessary love affair between main characters. Performances by Skeet Ulrich as Jack Bull Chiles and Simon Baker-Denny as the complex Daniel Holt make the movie exceedingly more enjoyable and believable. Chiles appeals to the viewers’ need for well executed action, and Holt captures the viewers’ hearts and minds, sharing with them his feelings of frustration and confusion.
The best performance, however, is of Tobey Maguire as the main character, Jake Roedel. Roedel is a German who should be supporting the Union, but his strong love for his best friend Chiles and his home state of Missouri force him to stand up for what he believes in and fight against the expectancy. Maguire suffers immense confusion and mistreatment due to his minority, as well as the great losses of his father and beloved friend, and the viewers share all his emotions as they are drawn in by Maguire’s convincing acting performance. Jewel Kilcher as Sue Lee Shelly, however, was a minimal acting performance. Her character not only seemed out of place, but Jewel failed to deliver the necessary emotions and personality which was critical to her character. Another poor aspect of the movie, the unstable pace, proved to take away some merit from Ride With the Devil.
The movie quickly dives in to the action without much room for character development which leaves the viewer lacking a sense of certainty behind the main characters’ motifs and beliefs behind fighting. Contrastingly, when the movie slows down while the men are shacked up for the winter, the movie beings to seem drawn out and to slow to get into. It does, however, pick back up when Quantrill starts to organize the Lawrence Massacre towards the end. The movie was not all bad, however, because it did have a logical climax and ending; Roedel and Holt retire from their fighting because they are not only wounded physically, but they are emotionally wounded because their cause for war does not seem as self-justified as it once did—Holt, a free slave, and Roedel, a minority German seem out of place fighting for the Confederacy. Moreover, the movie did a very fine job at holding the attention of its viewer; the battle scenes were cleverly crafted and the secondary plot of love and friendship outside of war was enough to keep an viewer anxious to see what the next scene had in store. Although the movie would have been better with more character development, all in all Ride With the Devil was a beautifully directed, entertaining, and historically accurate movie which is well worth-while of any other viewer’s time and attention for either historical value or personal enjoyment.
Ride With the Devil by Ang Lee is a well directed, well executed, and historically accurate movie about the disorganized fighting that went on between the bands of guerrilla fighters in Missouri and Kansas—the confederate Bushwhackers and the Missouri Jayhawkers. Through its accurate portrayal of Bushwhacker and Jayhawkers, William Quantrill and his Lawrence Massacre, and the guerrilla style of fighting that went on in Missouri and Kansas, Ride With the Devil holds merit in historical accuracy. This movie proposes an unusual perspective of the Civil War being disconnected from the main battles and in a tense state torn between sides, and it leaves the viewer considering whether or not the Confederacy is accurately depicted throughout most of Hollywood as being evil, or if they were just men trying to preserve their ways of life and beliefs.
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- Rule, G.E. ‘Jayhawkers & Bushwhackers.’ Civil War St Louis. 25 Jan. 2011. Web. 12 Jan. 2012. .
- ‘William Clarke Quantrill.’ Millers Paranormal Research. Web. 12 Jan. 2012. .