Two outsiders raise hell with the devil but must bury their past to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Director Ang Lee tells a tale of brotherhood concerning two disparate Southerners, an emotional civil war experienced between the violent pages of history.
Set during the War Between The States, a group of Missouri Patriots decide to take matters into their own hands and liberate their homeland from Northern aggression and sympathizers. This ragged group fights a guerrilla war against their enemies but soon finds themselves exiled to the periphery of their own country. Ang Lee begins the film with an ensemble cast that soon dissolves into a character study of Jake Roedel, son of a German immigrant whose loyalty to the Cause is often questioned. Portrayed by Tobey Maguire, he imbues Roedel with naïve impertinence, a young man who says an acts upon what he believes but isn’t ignorant as he reevaluates his politics and judgments. The beautiful cinematography vibrates with lush colors and deep shadows, which stands apart from the mediocre score. The film suffers from a cast of actors who look too modern, their perfect teeth and long hair more 20th century boy than 19th century citizen soldier: I call this the YOUNG GUNS syndrome. Jewel’s appearance as a widowed Southern Belle almost sinks the film by embracing a romantic interest, her character and actions just not very believable, her acting bland and her part seemingly written solely as a plot device for the denouement.
Lee has the cannon(balls) to write a Civil War film that eschews action for the cadence of poetic lyricism, and asks the audience to sympathize with a Secessionist and a slave…who fights against a government that emancipated him! Lee even turns Western convention on its head with the final confrontation, leading the audience to expect a violent showdown and instead delivering a verbal barrage. This is not a war film in the general sense; it is a war film about internal conflict, as Roedel gains self-awareness through understanding the ex-slave Holt, embracing him as a human being, reflected in the parting act of finally calling him Daniel.
Final Grade: (B)