Upon its initial release, Ang Lee’s film Ride With The Devil was met with tepid reviews and an almost non-existent audience. Though it only lasted 1 week here in L.A., I managed to see the film twice.
Since then, the film has garnered a sort of cult-following. And rightly so. It’s an amazing film and right up there with Lee’s best. But it was virtually discarded by the film’s distributer and the advertising, what little there was, didn’t connect with audiences.
Part Western, part Civil War Historical Drama, Ride uses as its setting the brutal conflict between pro-Union Jayhawkers and pro-slavery Bushwhackers along the Kansas/Missouri border. The film stars Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, James Caviezel, Jonathan Rhys Myers, Simon Baker, Jeffrey Wright, Mark Ruffalo, Tom Wilkinson, and Jewel. Perhaps the casting made some people think this was just Young Guns for a new age.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Even Jewel, in her film debut, gives a terrific performance and is perfectly cast. I suppose I’m lucky that, though I had heard of Jewel, I had never listened to her music, never seen her face, never read her poetry, and hadn’t heard anything positive or negative about her. So for me, I was able to appreciate her in a completely unbiased manner. After seeing the film, I learned that there were those who were not fond of Jewel, her music and poetry, and the thought of seeing her in a film was not particularly alluring. My suggestion to those folks? Let it go. This is a great film full of towering performances and directed by one of our great contemporary filmmakers.
I also seem to remember critics lambasting the film and taking particular offense to its use of language, calling it artificial and historically inaccurate. Many claimed it was more representative of how people wrote back then, not how they spoke. Luckily, several well-regarded historians on the period spoke up and confirmed that the use of language in the film is, in fact, quite close to how people spoke. How quick we are to judge… I, for one, thought the language beautiful and part of the visceral atmosphere so lovingly created by Mr. Lee.
For those of us who are fans of this film, and for those who may one day become fans, there’s good news on the horizon. The Film Society of Lincoln Center in N.Y. is doing an Ang Lee retrospective and are showing, for the first time anywhere, Ang Lee’s Director’s Cut of Ride With The Devil. Lee and writer, producer, and longtime Lee collaborator James Schamus, as well as Daniel Woodrell, author of the novel Woe To live On that inspired the film, will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening on Monday August 10th at 7:30 PM. Mr. Schamus has claimed that this new version of Ride “will include about 15 additional minutes and have a different sound mix and pace.”
Let’s just hope this Director’s Cut finds its way to DVD and Blu-ray so that we can all see the film as Mr. Lee apparently prefers it. Given my love for the theatrical cut, and judging by Mr. Lee’s filmmaking and storytelling sensibilities, I have no doubt this version will enhance what is already a great film. I can hardly wait…