The only reason why I would pick up this DVD, is Ang Lee's name on it as director, and Tobey Maguire in his second outing with the celebrated director (the first being The Ice Storm). Ang Lee has taken on a host of different genres, and I thought it would be interesting to see him take on a Western (no, Brokeback Mountain doesn't count) set during the American Civil War.
Based on the novel Woe to Live On by Daniel Woodrell, the story puts its focus on the lives of a group of Southern guerilla fighters. I haven't seen that many movies on the Civil War which focus on the losers, and what more on the infighting amongst their ranks, between the bushwhackers and the jayhawkers.
It tells the story of four individuals - Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire), a nineteen year old of German descent, his good friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich) whose father got murdered, which prompted them to join the bushwhackers for revenge, George Clyde (Simon Baker) and his slave Daniel Holt (Jeffrey Wright), from whom the themes of slavery, freedom and the highlighting of the inequality of men gets repeated play.
The movie may have an epic scale to it, but what came through was anything but. It was plodding for the most parts, and for those expecting big war scenes, you're likely to be disappointed. It tells the story on a much personal level from the perspective of each of the main characters, as we observe how they make sense of the war. In some ways, I thought there was an obvious dropping of a subplot which could have been further developed, one involving Mark Ruffalo as a soldier being shown mercy, but gone back to bite the hand that cut him loose.
Filled with beautiful cinematography, what could tide you through the movie would be the host of stars here, which include James Caviezel (almost unrecognizable under that hairy beard), Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a chilling villain, Tom Wilkinson and even singer Jewel Kilcher who plays a widow looking for affection in all the wrong places. But my bet is if you're not into the Civil War era, then you'll find a hard time trying to get past allegiances and such, even though you probably can connect with themes such as loyalty, and a coming of age tale amidst political chaos.
Code 1 DVD by Universal is presented in anamorphic widescreen with a decent visual transfer, and audio comes in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English, or French. Subtitles are available in French, with Close Caption available in English. Scene selection is available over 18 chapters.
Bonus material included in the disc are Jewel's Music Video: What's Simple is True (3:30) which seems to contain snippets of suggestive scenes which was excluded from the movie, the trailer whic runs only 30 seconds, a set of text based Production Notes, a Cast and Filmmakers section which only has simple text notes on Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, Jewel, Jeffrey Wright and director Ang Lee, and a Recommendations section which features trailers for Reap the Wild Wind (2:11), All Quiet on the Western Front (2:28), Far and Away (2:55), and The River Wild and High Plains Drifter. The bonus material rounds off with a web link back to Universal's website.
Lacking of course would be the usual director's commentary and behind the scenes features.