Bullet Points: Ride With the Devil
The American Civil War was quite possibly the darkest time in history of the young United States of America. Brother fought against brother and the entire country was on edge. The war famously stretched from the fields of Gettysburg, PA, to the Southern cities of Richmond, Vicksburg, and Atlanta. Tens of thousands of men died on battlefields and even more died from diseases and other horrible non-combat illnesses. The war in the Western parts of the U.S., however, are far less talked about than the traditional battles had in places like Virginia. In Missouri and Kansas, guerrilla tactics and bands of outlaws preyed on civilians and soldiers alike. Towns were truly split down the middle as neighbors burned each others houses down and slaughtered people that they had known for years.
It’s in this horribly bleak setting that Ride With the Devil picks up. Confederate loyalists called ‘Bushwackers’ banded together, intent on keeping Unionist ‘Jayhawkers’ from overtaking the frontier. We can argue for days on what the actual reasons were behind the war but Ride With the Devil focuses on a much smaller battlefield. It’s a film that showcases the cost of war, especially one as bloody as this, on a small group of Missouri men.
Synopsis: Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) and Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) are two young men from Missouri who are thrust into the vicious American Civil War when Jack Bull Chiles’ father is killed by a group of Unionist men. Jake and Jack Bull then take up arms and join a group a Bushwackers, hell bent on killing as many Federalist men as possible. While hiding in a secluded area, Jack Bull falls in love with a local girl and soon Jake takes it upon himself to hide the lovely Sue Lee (Jewel). What Jake discovers is that the war, no matter how far, is something that he can’t escape.
- A Stellar Cast: Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright (amazing), Jonathon Rhys Meyers, Jim Caviezel, Simon Baker, Tom Wilkinson, and Mark Ruffalo.
- All Too Real: I’ve often marveled at just how brutal the Civil War appears on screen. The saddest part about that is how closely it relates to the actual history of the war. A massive amount of people died during the war and often times those that suffered the most had the least invested in the conflict.
- Skeet: Mr. Ulrich has never felt like a true leading man to me. I know that his most famous film was probably the Scream flick, but he has always had a weird look to me. I can’t imagine him being anything other than the creepy looking dude is most likely going to be bad in some way in the end.
- Man’s got Skills: Upon seeing Jewel’s character Sue Lee, the Bushwackers, including Jake and Jack Bull, are instantly on their best behavior. Were they guerrilla fighters who were also Southern Gentlemen or were they just trying to get her to give up the goods?
- A One-Sided Affair: Another Civil War film that I find amazing but didn’t do well in theaters is Gods and Generals. I think that it showed the Southern Generals in too much of a positive light. Maybe that was why it failed to reach the box office numbers that Gettysburg did. Who knows? What I do know is that Ride With the Devil plays entirely as a movie from the Confederate persepective. The only Union men in the film are those fighting against Tobey Maguire and his crew and at no time do they appear to be the “good guys”.
- Spoiler: For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, skip this one. Late in the film, after Sue Lee gives birth to the child of the now deceased Jack Bull Chiles, Jake does the right thing and is forced to marry her. Now I know that Jake is not a pro-marriage kind of guy. They clearly state that he was in no way looking for a lady friend on any of the dating websites, but being forced to marry Jewel is like forcing me to eat ice cream and watch a Stallone marathon. Hell, I might’ve done some bushwacking myself if sharing a bed with the lovely Alaskan crooner was how I would end my nights.
- This is the End: There isn’t and over abundance of action in Ride With the Devil. There are definitely some good shootouts and a few cavalry battles but I really felt like we were cheated out of a killer finale. If Sergio Leone had directed this movie instead of Ang Lee, there would have been and epic showdown between Tobey Maguire and the character played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers. By the way, JRM has one of the most punchable faces that I’ve ever seen. Not quite on par with Channing Tatum or that douche from The Hunger Games, but still in need of a steady barrage of left hooks.
The war is over but that doesn’t mean you can’t stick around for these extra Bullet Points.
- Both Leo DiCaprio and Matt Damon passed on the role of Jake Roedel.
- “Have you ever been with a woman before?” “I’ve killed 15 men!” Yeah Tobey, it’s not quite the same thing.
- Directed by Taiwanese born Ang Lee.
- Imagine how many men would have been saved in the Civil War with the medical knowledge of a modern day combat medic.