Ride with the Devil (film)
Ride with the Devil is a 1999 American revisionist Western film directed by Ang Lee, and starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jeffrey Wright, and Jewel in her feature film debut. Based on the novel Woe to Live On, by Daniel Woodrell, the film, set during the American Civil War, follows a group of men who join the First Missouri Irregulars, also known as the Bushwhackers—guerrilla units loyal to pro-Confederacy units of the state—and their attempt to disrupt and marginalize the political activities of Northern Jayhawkers allied with Union soldiers. Simon Baker, Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Jonathan Brandis, Jim Caviezel, Mark Ruffalo, and Celia Weston are featured in supporting performances.
|Ride with the Devil|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Ang Lee|
|Produced by||Ted Hope|
Robert F. Colesberry
|Screenplay by||James Schamus|
|Based on||Woe to Live On|
by Daniel Woodrell
|Music by||Mychael Danna|
|Edited by||Tim Squyres|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|138 minutes (theatrical), 148 minutes (Director's Cut)|
The film was a co-production between Universal Studios and Good Machine. Principal photography began on March 25, 1998. Theatrically, it was commercially distributed by the USA Films division of Universal, and premiered in only six theaters nationwide in the United States on November 26, 1999 and for only three days, grossing a total of $635,096. Taking into account its $38 million budget costs, the film was considered a major box office bomb.
Ride with the Devil has been noted for its thematic exploration of politics, violence and war. In 2010, The Criterion Collection released a restored high-definition digital transfer for the home media market, featuring an extended 148-minute director's cut of the film.
Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are friends in Missouri when the American Civil War breaks out. During the mayhem, Chiles' father is murdered by Kansas pro-Union Jayhawkers. The two men join the First Missouri Irregulars (Bushwhackers) under Black John Ambrose, an informal unit loyal to pro-Confederacy units of Missouri in 1861. They later meet George Clyde and former slave Daniel Holt, whose freedom Clyde has previously granted.
The Bushwhackers battle Jayhawkers using guerrilla warfare tactics while trying to evade capture. During their travels, Jake is notified that his father, a German immigrant, has been murdered by Alf Bowden, a Unionist whose life Jake spared. The men manage to hide out in a coarsely-built shelter on the property of a pro-Confederacy family, the Evanses. A young widow in the household, Sue Lee Shelley, becomes romantically involved with Chiles. During a skirmish, Chiles is severely wounded. Jack, Daniel, and Sue Lee amputate his arm, but he dies of gangrene. After Chiles' death, Roedel escorts Shelley to a refuge dwelling where another pro-Confederate kindred, the Brown family, reside.
Following the collapse and destruction of a makeshift prison holding the female relatives of guerrillas, a complementary clan of Bushwhackers led by William Quantrill plot a revenge attack against the Union and raid Lawrence, Kansas. In the midst of the offense, a quarrel arises between Roedel and fellow Bushwhacker Pitt Mackeson. Roedel, a German American, was born in Germany but raised by his immigrant father in Missouri. He suffers from sporadic anti-German suspicion from other Southerners, because the German population in the state is largely sympathetic to the Union. In an episode of hostility, Mackeson purposely shoots Roedel in the leg shortly after the raid on Lawrence, while retreating from a counterattack by Union forces. The perceived prejudice contributes to Roedel's sympathy to the plight faced by Holt, a former slave coping with racism.
Meanwhile, Shelley gives birth to Chiles's daughter. Holt and Roedel, both wounded, recover at the same residence that took in Shelley occupied by the Brown folk. The Browns, who mistakenly suppose Roedel is the child's father, pressure Roedel to marry her, which he is reluctant to do. However, after spending time with Shelley and the child, Roedel begins to have feelings for both of them. At the same time, Anderson and many other Bushwhackers have been killed, taken prisoner or otherwise rendered inactive. Pitt Mackeson has gathered some survivors into a gang which no longer fights the Yankees, but instead robs, murders and plunders Unionists and Southerners alike. Word comes from one of Roedel's compatriots that Mackeson and his gang are headed South and plan on visiting Roedel soon.
One day Mr. Brown takes Holt to town and returns with a reverend and Roedel, after realizing he does love Shelley and she him, marries her in an abrupt wedding. Roedel's feelings toward Shelley are further deepened by a tender wedding night together. Later, proclaiming himself finished with war, Roedel gives up being a Bushwhacker and takes his new family to California. On the way, they meet Mackeson and the last of his men, Turner, who is ragged and injured, the both of them on the run. They report Black John and Quantrill are both dead and agree with Roedel the war is lost. Mackeson tells them of his plan to ride into Newport despite the fact the town is full of Federal soldiers and certain death awaits him and Turner. Mackeson's strange manner causes Roedel and Holt to hold guns on him and Turner, but the two ride off without violence.
Holt rides with Roedel and his family toward California, until their roads part, and then Daniel tells Jake farewell, while Shelley and the baby sleep. Holt leaves for Texas, a free man, to find his long lost mother.
- Tobey Maguire as Jake Roedel
- Skeet Ulrich as Jack Bull Chiles
- Jewel as Sue Lee Shelley
- Jeffrey Wright as Daniel Holt
- Simon Baker as George Clyde
- Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Pitt Mackeson
- Jim Caviezel as Black John Ambrose
- Tom Guiry as Riley Crawford
- Jonathan Brandis as Cave Wyatt
- Mark Ruffalo as Alf Bowden
- Tom Wilkinson as Orton Brown
- Margo Martindale as Wilma Brown
- John Ales as William Quantrill
- Celia Weston as Mrs. Clark
- John Judd as Otto Roedel
- Don Shanks as George
- John Durbin as Skaggs
Many critics have noted that the film does little to orient or guide its audience through the historical landscape in which it is set, and instead presents events in a manner that is "unremarkable," "undemonstrative," and "somewhat ghostly." Writer Andrew Patrick Nelson considers Ride with the Devil as being part of the revisionist Western tradition, though he concedes that it "has little of the self-consciousness that generally marks the form." Nelson asserts that director Ang Lee often forgoes excessive attention to historical details, and instead attempts to immerse the audience in an experience that "is responsive to the daily realities and rhythms that surround the characters." It is because of this that Nelson claims the film has more in common with "metaphysical" works of filmmakers such as Terrence Malick."
Casting and set designEdit
The leading actors were required to go through three weeks of boot camp to prepare them for their roles. During shooting, Maguire hesitated under the grueling heat and 16-hour workdays, but pressed on to complete the filming. The actors first trained shooting blank loads, and then live ammunition for action conflict scenes. More than 250 Civil War black-powder pistols were used during the production phase. Over 140 extras played Lawrence residents, and more than 200 Civil War re-enactors were brought in to relay their style of living to the filming sequences.
Principal photography began on March 25, 1998. Filming took place primarily on location in Sibley, Missouri, Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri. Pattonsburg, Missouri also stood in as a primary filming set locale. The set design production team removed telephone poles and utilized truckloads of dirt to cover existing asphalt and concrete. Production designer Mark Friedberg created numerous indoor and outdoor sets of the time period to ensure and maintain historical accuracy.
Music and soundtrackEdit
The original motion picture music for Ride with the Devil, was released by the Atlantic Records music label on November 23, 1999. The score for the film was orchestrated by Mychael Danna and Nicholas Dodd. Musical artist Jewel contributed vocals to the score with her song "What's Simple Is True", from her 1998 album Spirit.
|Ride with the Devil: Music from and inspired by the Motion Picture|
|Film score by|
|Released||November 23, 1999|
|Ride with the Devil: Music from and inspired by the Motion Picture|
|2.||"Miss McLeod's Reel"||1:41|
|3.||"Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers"||3:20|
|4.||"Clark Farm Shootout"||3:05|
|6.||"Sally in the Garden"||1:21|
|7.||"Settling in for Winter"||0:49|
|8.||"Ride to the Evans/Hilltop Letter"||2:10|
|9.||"Sue Lee/Dinner at the Evans"||1:28|
|11.||"George Clyde Clears Out"||1:44|
|12.||"Jack Bull's Death"||4:45|
|13.||"Old King Crow"||2:06|
|14.||"Quantrill's Arrival/Ride to Lawrence"||2:37|
|16.||"Don't Think You Are a Good Man"||2:11|
|17.||"Battle and Betrayal"||3:13|
|19.||"A Chicken at the End of It"||1:36|
|21.||"What's Simple Is True"||3:36|
The basis for the film, Daniel Woodrell's novel Woe to Live On (originally published in 1987) was released as a movie tie-in edition, re-titled Ride With the Devil, by Pocket Books on November 1, 1999. The book dramatizes the events of the American Civil War during the 1860s, as depicted in the film. It expands on the inner-fighting between rebel Bushwhackers and Union Jayhawkers, with civilians caught in the crossfire. The story relates a coming of age experience for Roedel as he emotionally comprehends the losses of his best friend, father and comrades. On a separate front, Roedel expresses love for his best friend's widow, and learns about tolerance from his contact with a reserved black Irregular.
Ride with the Devil received its world premiere at the 25th Deauville American Film Festival in France on September 9, 1999. The following day it had its North American premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in Canada. The film's UK premiere was at the opening night gala of the London Film Festival on November 3, 1999.
Ride with the Devil had an initial screening on November 24, 1999 in New York City, Kansas City, Missouri and Los Angeles. For most of its limited release, the film fluctuated between 11 and 60 theater screening counts. At its most competitive showing, the filmed ranked in 37th place for the December 17–19 weekend in 1999.
The film premiered in cinemas on November 26, 1999 in limited release throughout the United States. During that weekend, the film opened in 50th place grossing $64,159 in business showing at 11 locations. The film Toy Story 2 opened in 1st place during that weekend with $57,388,839 in revenue. The film's revenue dropped by almost 20% in its second week of release, earning $51,600. For that particular weekend, the film fell to 53rd place although with an increased theater count showing at 15 theaters. Toy Story 2 remained unchallenged in 1st place with $18,249,880 in box office business. During its final week in release, Ride with the Devil opened in 57th place grossing $39,806. For that weekend period, Stuart Little starring Geena Davis opened in 1st place with $11,214,503 in revenue. Ride with the Devil went on to top out domestically at $635,096 in total ticket sales through a 6-week theatrical run. For 1999 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 219.
Among mainstream critics in the U.S., the film received generally positive reviews. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 63% of 65 sampled critics gave the film a positive review, with an average score of 6.2 out of 10. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average out of 100 to critics' reviews, Ride with the Devil received a score of 69 based on 29 reviews. The film failed to garner any award nominations for its acting or production merits from accredited film organizations.
|"From a technical perspective, Ride with the Devil is nearly perfect. The attention to detail invested by Lee and his crew shows. From costumes to props, everything has the unmistakable hallmark of authenticity. The only Civil War drama able to boast an equal level of historical accuracy is Gettysburg."|
|—James Berardinelli, writing in ReelViews|
Peter Stack, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle, said in outward positive sentiment, "Lee's approach mixes an unsettling grittiness with an appealing, often luminous elegance (thanks to Frederick Elmes' cinematography) in picturing a patch of America at war with itself." Left impressed, Stephen Hunter in The Washington Post, wrote that the film was "terrific" and that it contained the "most terrifying kind of close-in gunplay, with big, pulsing holes blown into human beings for a variety of reasons ranging from the political to the nonsensical." In a mixed to positive review, Stephen Holden of The New York Times, described the film's production aspects as being of "meditative quality and its attention to detail and the rough-hewn textures of 19th-century life are also what keep the story at a distance and make "Ride with the Devil" dramatically skimpy, even though the movie stirs together themes of love, sex, death and war." Wesley Morris of The San Francisco Examiner, commented that Ride with the Devil was "downright hot-blooded in the nameless violence going on west of marquee Civil War battles. Never has this war been filmed with such ragged glory. The boys grasping their rifles look like trigger-happy rock stars of the prairies, so much so that they threaten to transform the film into a great hair movie." In a slightly upbeat conviction, Andrew O'Hehir of Salon.com asserted that "for all its clumsy dialogue and loose plotting, this is historical filmmaking of a high order, both visually and thematically ambitious." Todd McCarthy of Variety, added to the exuberant tone by declaring, "Impressing once again with the diversity of his choices of subject matter and milieu, director Ang Lee has made a brutal but sensitively observed film about the fringes of the Civil War".
The film was not without its detractors. Writing for the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert bluntly noted that the motion picture "does not have conventional rewards or payoffs, does not simplify a complex situation, doesn't punch up the action or the romance simply to entertain. But it is, sad to say, not a very entertaining movie; it's a long slog unless you're fascinated by the undercurrents." In a primarily negative review, Lisa Schwarzbaum writing for Entertainment Weekly, called the film "an oddly unengaging one, not because of any weak performances (even crooning poetess Jewel acquits herself pleasantly in her film debut), but because the waxy yellow buildup of earnest tastefulness (the curse of the Burns school of history) seals off every character from our access." Describing a favorable opinion, Russell Smith of The Austin Chronicle professed the film as exhibiting "unostentatious originality, psychological insight, and stark beauty". While following up, he stressed "There's an odd blend of stylization and extreme realism to this film. The dialogue is stilted, full of archaic $20-words and dime-novel flamboyance — all the more jarring when delivered by these teenaged bumpkin characters."
|"It's a film that would inspire useful discussion in a history class, but for ordinary moviegoers, it's slow and forbidding."|
|—Roger Ebert, writing for the Chicago Sun-Times|
James Berardinelli of ReelViews proclaimed Ride with the Devil "takes us away from the big battles of the East and to a place where things are less cleanly defined." He also stated that "As was true almost everywhere else, idealogical gulfs often divided families. This is the terrain into which Lee has ventured, and the resulting motion picture offers yet another effective and affecting portrait of the United States' most important and difficult conflict." In consummate verbiage, David Sterritt writing for The Christian Science Monitor reasoned, "The movie is longer and slower than necessary, but it explores interesting questions of wartime violence, personal integrity, and what it means to come of age in a society ripping apart at the seams." Film critic Steve Simels of TV Guide was consumed with the nature of the subject matter exclaiming, "A nicely ambiguous ending and terrific acting by the mostly young cast mostly makes up for the longeurs, however, and for the record, Jewel acquits herself well in a not particularly demanding role."
In 2013, the film was the subject of an essay in a collection of scholarly essays on Ang Lee's films, The Philosophy of Ang Lee.
Following its cinematic release in theaters, the Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on July 18, 2000. Special features for the DVD include; Jewel music video: "What's Simple Is True", the Theatrical Trailer, Production notes, Cast and filmmakers extra, and a Universal web link.
The Criterion Collection released a restored special edition on DVD and Blu-ray on April 27, 2010. It includes a 148-minute extended cut of the film. Special features include; Two audio commentaries one featuring Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus and one featuring Elmes, sound designer Drew Kunin, and production designer Mark Friedberg; a new video interview with star Jeffrey Wright, and a booklet featuring essays by critic Godfrey Cheshire and Edward E. Leslie, author of The Devil Knows How to Ride: The True Story of William Clarke Quantrill and his Confederate Raiders.
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