Unlike other films dealing with the American Civil War, this feature by Taiwanese director, Ang Lee, deals with the band of guerilla fighters known as Bushwhackers who fought for the southern cause.
It centres on the friendship between Jake, the son of a German immigrant (most of whom became Unionists), his lifelong friend Jack Bull Chiles, son of a plantation owner, and freed slave Daniel Holt, who is also fighting for the south. The young men find themselves fighting their former neighbours and increasingly have to struggle to survive. Into their midst comes the recently widowed Sue Lee Shelley, played by pop singer Jewel, who falls in love with Jack but ends up engaged to Jake. Among the other Bushwhackers is the villainous Pitt Mackerson (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers).
This fairly unknown piece of American history is recounted with humour and warmth, (based on Daniel Woodrell’s book, Woe to Live On). Both sides claim heroes but in the intense fighting scenes it becomes obvious that both committed a great number of atrocities. In its approach to the Western genre, the film stands as a useful companion piece to Dances with Wolves.
USA, 1999. Drama. 140 min. Director: Ang Lee