USA, 2009, 160 minutes
Sat, May 01 / 1:00 / Kabuki / AWAR01K
From an aromatic kitchen in modern-day Taipei to Jane Austen’s 19th-century English countryside, and from gravity-defying Qing Dynasty warriors to lovelorn cowboys herding sheep and uncontrollable emotions, Ang Lee has roamed widely across continents and eras to tell visually resplendent stories of unforgettable characters during a two-decades-and-counting career as one of contemporary cinema’s most respected practitioners. Following such acclaimed early work as The Wedding Banquet and The Ice Storm, and prior to Brokeback Mountain mania, Lee dug deep into the moral ambiguities of the American Civil War for 1999’s criminally overlooked Ride with the Devil. It stars Tobey Maguire as a pistol-packing Missouri bushwhacker whose allegiance to cause and country shifts in the face of friendship (with a scene-stealing Skeet Ulrich), courtship (of neo-folkie Jewel, in a wholly convincing performance) and the abolishment of slavery (personified by the great Jeffrey Wright, teaching Union and Confederate soldiers alike that war is never civil). Pressured by the studio to trim scenes upon the film’s initial release, Lee and frequent collaborator James Schamus—recipient of this year’s Kanbar Award for screenwriting—have restored crucial sequences for this just-completed director’s cut, which revitalizes the battle-scarred epic while further highlighting Schamus’s spot-on dialogue as the sound of ideologies clashing. This Devil is in the details, from peacock feathers in a patriot’s hat to the exact surgical angle of a hacksaw severing a gangrenous arm. War is hell, to be sure, but as cinema it approaches perfection in this definitive version of a wise and wild Ride.