Building on the qualities of Wedding Banquet, Sense and Sensibility and The Ice Storm, director Lee here tackles a far grander subject - the American Civil War. About a unit of young 'Bushwhackers' - Southern guerillas tackling Yankee platoons - it focuses on the experiences of two friends: plantation owner's son Jack Bull (Ulrich) and Jake (Maguire), both basically liberal on the issue of slavery but driven by vengeance and proud loyalty to bear arms for the Confederacy. Steadily, however, as altercations with volatile colleague Pitt (Rhys Meyers), Jack's encounter with the widow Sue Lee (Jewel), and Jake's deepening friendship with ex-slave Daniel (Wright) take effect, the pair find themselves rebels without a cause. Truly epic in scale yet full of beautifully observed details, the film benefits hugely from sturdy yet exquisite performances, Frederick Elmes' typically meaty camerawork and yet another intelligent and incisive James Schamus script. The social and ethical issues are treated with depth, but there's no sermonising; the light touch extends to a gentle humour interspersed amid the carnage. Like The Outlaw Josey Wales and Once Upon a Time in America, it's a tale of hatred transformed by disillusionment into a redemptive desire to abandon bloodlust and look to the future.
Cast and crew
Jonathan Rhys Meyers