Two best friends (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich) hook up with the Bushwhackers, an unofficial army of young men in 1860s Kansas and Missouri whose primary objective is to kill Union soldiers and sympathizers. The primary objective of this Civil War drama seems to be to complicate their motives by using comedy. The actors—particularly Maguire and Jeffrey Wright as a former slave—give their characters great depth, and the cinematography by Frederick Elmes uses close-ups and wide shots as if the contours of faces and landscapes contained insights about the relationship between the course of American history and the motives of men. The plot is largely a series of excuses for one-liners expertly delivered by Maguire, making all the hatred, maiming, and killing seem like digressions. Ang Lee directed a screenplay by James Schamus based on a novel by Daniel Woodrell.