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Ride with the Devil(1999)
With this new director’s cut, Ang Lee reconstructs his original vision for his Civil War epic, Ride with the Devil, an intimate, harrowing look at a country torn in half, told from a daringly unorthodox perspective. Set in 1862, during the Kansas-Missouri border war, the film stars Tobey Maguire as Jake and Skeet Ulrich as his friend Jack Bull; they join the Confederate-sympathizing Bushwhackers after Jack’s father is killed by marauding members of the abolitionist Jayhawkers. But Ride with the Devil is also the story of their unusual ally Holt (an astonishing Jeffrey Wright), who’s fighting for the South despite being a former slave. A rumination on identity and loyalty, both political and personal, Ride with the Devil is a provocative challenge to preconceptions about America’s bloodiest conflict.
For more about Ride with the Devil and the Ride with the Devil Blu-ray release, see the Ride with the Devil Blu-ray Review
Starring: Skeet Ulrich, Tobey Maguire
Director: Ang Lee
» See full cast & crew
Ride with the Devil Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 11, 2010
Adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel "Woe To Live On", Ang Lee's "Ride with the Devil" (1999) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include two audio commentaries, recorded exclusively for Criterion - one with Ang Lee and producer-screenwriter James Shamus, the other with cinematographer Frederick Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg; and a short interview, recorded exclusively for Criterion, with actor Jeffrey Wright. The disc also arrives with a 30-page illustrated booklet containing Godfrey Cheshire's essays "Apocalypse Then" and "Bleeding Kansas, Marauding Missouri" and Edward E. Leslie's essay "Quantrill and his Raiders". With optional English subtitles. Region-A "locked".
The beginning of the Civil War. Somewhere across the Kansas-Missouri border, two good friends decide to join the Bushwhackers, the Confederate-sympathizing men, and fight the abolitionist Jayhawkers. One is Jack Bull (Skeet Ulrich, Soul Assassin), a proud Southerner whose father is killed by the Jayhawkers. The other is Jake a.k.a Dutchy (Tobey Maguire, The Cider House Rules), the son of a German immigrant who does not like politics.
Once they start riding with the Bushwhackers, Jack and Dutchy befriend Holt (Jeffrey Wright, Basquiat), a former slave, who's fighting for the South because the man who once bought his freedom is doing the same. Some of the Bushwhackers do not trust Holt. Others simply don't like being around him. A few do not even trust Dutchy.
While hiding from the Jayhawkers, Jack, Dutchy and Holt befriend Sue Lee (pop-star Jewel), a beautiful widow. Jack immediately falls in love with her and quickly begins fantasizing about being a married man. When Sue Lee's family is executed by a group of Jayhawkers, he goes out looking for revenge, but gets seriously injured. Later on, he dies of his wounds.
Dutchy and Holt decide to help Sue Lee find a new family. Soon, she is welcomed into the home of loyal to the South farmer, where she delivers Jack's baby. Everyone, however, believes that it is Dutchy's, which is why he is asked to marry Sue Lee.
Meanwhile, the Bushwhackers unite and, following the orders of William Quantrill (John Ales, The Zeros), attack Lawrence, Kansas, after they are led to believe that a large contingent of Jayhawkers is in the area. When they enter the city, however, there are hardly any Jayhawkers to fight so they end up massacring the civilian population.
Adapted from Daniel Woodrell's novel "Woe To Live On", Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil is a strange hybrid of a film. On the surface it looks and feels like a giant epic about the Civil War, but its message is about friendship and loss. Also, Ride with the Devil most definitely does not carry the same patriotic overtones other similarly-themed films, such as Ronald F. Maxwell's Gettysburg and Edward Zwick's Glory, do.
The raids, looting and killings in the film feel distant, at times even surreal. The main protagonists get sucked into them, they get hurt, they suffer and then move on. The Civil War is on the back of their minds, but the cause they are supposedly fighting for means nothing to them. Their reactions are impulsive. Their plans are flawed.
This very strange vacuum between events and characters is somewhat problematic. On one hand, it effectively shows the destructive effect war has on the lives of ordinary people. It is a giant snowball effect - one event leads to another, and another, and another. One could lose his life if one gets sucked into it. And one would definitely lose his life if one attempts to stay out of it.
On the other hand, because of the vacuum mentioned above the main characters are notably underdeveloped. They love, hate and kill often for reasons that remain veiled in secrecy. Their personal stories are intriguing but incomplete.
Technically, Ride with the Devil is without a doubt a well executed film. The lensing is top-notch and the editing convincing. The costumes and make up are also excellent. The music score, courtesy of Mychael Danna, does not disappoint either.
Note: The looting and burning of Lawrence, Kansas shown in Ride with the Devil occurred on August 21, 1863. In history annals, the event is often referred to as the Lawrence Massacre.
Ride with the Devil Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with the Blu-ray disc:
"Director Ang Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes supervised and approved this new high-definition digital transfer, which was scanned on a Spirit 4K Datacine from the 35mm interpositive and the original camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction."
Aside from some extremely minor flicker that I noticed early into the film, everything else looks terrific. Fine object detail is impressive, contrast levels consistent throughout the entire film and clarity pleasing. Even during some of the poorly lit scenes, and specifically during the Winter hibernation footage, the image quality remains very strong. The film's color-scheme is also impressive. Blues, greens, yellows, reds, browns, blacks and whites are rich and very well saturated. Some of the panoramic scenes, for example, look like giant pictures. Edge-enhancement and macroblocking are never a serious issue of concern. Neither are banding and aliasing. I also did not detect any traces of heavy noise filtering. When blown through a digital projector, Ride with the Devil also looks pleasingly stable. Finally, I did not spot any large cuts, warps, debris, or stains to report in this review. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Ride with the Devil Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is solid. The bass is potent and punchy, the rear channels intelligently used and the high-frequencies not overdone. During the raids is where the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 shines - the attack on Lawrence, Kansas, in particular, has some good surround effects. Elsewhere, there are a couple of shootouts that are also quite strong. The dialog is crisp, clean and very easy to follow. There are no balance issues with Mychael Danna's music score either. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing pops, cracks, or hissings to report in this review.
Ride with the Devil Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary - an audio commentary with director Ang Lee and producer-screenwriter James Shamus recorded exclusively for Criterion. This is an exceptionally informative commentary, one that I actually enjoyed slightly more than the film it addresses. Mr. Shamus' analysis, in particular, is very strong, focusing on the history of some of the events depicted in the film, the main characters, how certain scenes were shot, etc.
Commentary - an audio commentary with cinematographer Frederick Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg, recorded exclusively for Criterion. This is also a very informative commentary, with a strong analysis on the events and unusual relationships the film focuses on.
Jeffrey Wright - a short interview, recorded exclusively for Criterion, with the actor in which he talks about his decision to play Daniel Holt in Ride with the Devil, racism in America, etc. In English, not subtitled. (15 min, 1080p).
Booklet - a 30-page illustrated booklet containing Godfrey Cheshire's essays "Apocalypse Then" and "Bleeding Kansas, Marauding Missouri" (the author is a filmmaker and critic based in New York City); and Edward E. Leslie's essay "Quantrill and his Raiders" (author has written The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Qantrill and His Confederate Raiders).
Ride with the Devil Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ang Lee's Ride with the Devil offers a unique look at the Civil War - it sees it from the point of view of the South. It does not, however, judge any of the events it depicts nor the characters that participate in them. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed, courtesy of Criterion, looks and sounds terrific. RECOMMENDED.
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