Like the war it pivots around, Ang Lee’s RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, is a troubling property.
A box office failure on its release in 1999, the film came and went from theaters, virtually unseen. The release of the movie on Blu-ray, from respected Blu-ray Boutique label Criterion, finally gives audiences a chance to (most for the first time), see and explore what may be the most challenging film, from a director known for taking on eclectic and challenging material.
It is not an easy film, filled as it is with absurdities, and contradictions and stupidities reflective of the time. However stick with it, as it is a rewarding film, as much for what it says about the mistakes this nation has made, as it is prophetic and timely about the mistakes this nation is currently making.
Is it a great film? It has moments of greatness, and is never quite what you think it is.
It is ultimately a film I bought simply upon Jeffrey Wright, mentioning it as one of his favorites; and one I am very glad I bought. The beautiful criterion release offers a great interview with Jeffrey Wright, snippets of which I have provided below. However, please watch the film before indulging in the full special features.
In an age of streaming, this Criterion release of RIDE WITH THE DEVIL makes a case for physical media just in the gorgeousness of the gestalt. From the striking and handsomely designed packaging, to the overflowing with special features director’s approved and remastered release, to the eye-catching booklet filled with informative essays on the film; in every way this film is as much a tactile and dimensional experience, as a visual one.
A must own release. Grade: B+.
“I think that’s what separates this film from other films about the civil war, and other films that deal with historical racial dynamics in this country, that Ang was open to the complexity of it. That war is a seminal event in the character of American history, and it continues to inform who we are today, and who we will become. The story is a non-conventional look at historic race relations in this country. “
“I understood the attack they had planned, and I understood the subtlety of the character they had drawn. Holt, the character I played, that Ang described as an emerging character, and I thought it worked on multiple levels, relative to the film. Interestingly that was the first role I got, not having had to audition. Ang said that he had seen my work, he had seen Basquiat prior to that and maybe some of my stage work and said ‘There was something in your eyes that I saw, that was right for the character.’ That as well gave me a lot of confidence in the way that he worked, and the way he understood what acting was.”
“Black folks in the south, in the years before the civil War did not have a voice. Holt, is reflective of the nature of Black folks relation to society at that time. And ultimately as he emerges out of that silence, what he does say is all the more heightened, and all the more powerful.”
“I think it has gained a core audience since then — an expanding audience, it’s a film that’s going to survive. RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is the last film about the Civil War of the 20th century, and I think the arc from BIRTH OF A NATION, at the beginning of the 20th century to RIDE WITH THE DEVIL is an evolution of our ways of portraying this critical and defining point in our history, through cinema.”