Is Sympathy for the Devil Nic Cage’s best work? Definitely not. Is it his worst? Not even close. Sympathy for the Devil is a decent thriller that reminds us that you don’t need a large cast to create a great film. Cage is one of those special actors for me… the type of actor that, when you see their name in the credits, you know you are going to watch the film. As such, my reviews of his performances will always be biased, but I think that my rating for this film is dead on… even if part of me wanted to up it to 3.5-stars.
Sympathy for the Devil is a conversation between two characters. It isn’t a pleasant conversation over dinner or a cup of coffee, it’s a cage match between two men – The Passenger (Cage) and The Driver (Joel Kinnaman). The Driver drops his son off with the boy’s grandmother and drives to the hospital, where his wife is pregnant and in labour. In the opening scene, we also establish that The Driver and his wife had previously lost a child. Upon arrival at the hospital, we get our first glimpse of The Passenger who takes The Driver at gunpoint, forces him back into the car, and tells him to drive. This is where the story really starts.
The film does a great job of building tension with dialogue and the limited actions available within the vehicle. In fact, when the film finished, my wife/editor, looked at me and said, “Well, that film gave me nothing but anxiety.” You are on the edge of your seat for the majority of the film and it completely holds your attention. The main reason for this is the dichotomy between The Driver and The Passenger. Kinnaman plays a very quiet and reserved figure, terrified by the situation he has found himself in and seeking clarification on why these things are happening to him. Cage, on the other hand, brings The Passenger to life in a way that only Nic Cage can. The character is over-the-top, outlandish, and highly entertaining. With every line of dialogue and every facial expression, you can tell that Cage is carefully and deliberately bringing this character to life.
Throughout the film, you can’t help but feel bad for The Driver. You see his loving conversation with his son, the way he caringly talks to his wife, and his desire to be present for the birth. He has been abducted at gunpoint and forced to drive out of the city, taking emotional, verbal, and physical abuse from a maniacal madman with red hair and a red suit. The Passenger is convinced that he knows The Driver and he seems to be genuinely crazy. Then, you start to wonder why the film is called Sympathy for the Devil. Are we going to feel sympathetic for The Passenger before the end of the film? Is the Driver actually the devil, which means we’ve misplaced our sympathy? At this point, the film’s direction and title have telegraphed a twist, but it simply isn’t possible to know where the twist is heading.
By the time you figure out the twist, you’ve passed the point of no return and you need to see the film play out. The conclusion of the film definitely lives up to the name and it is interesting to watch as things get wrapped up. With that said, it is worth noting that the film’s conclusion is one of the main reasons why I knocked down the review a notch. While the acting was great, the direction was good, and the story was decent, the conclusion was weak and left me with an empty feeling. I didn’t get the closure that I wanted.
The other reason that this film didn’t rate higher was an issue that I had with one of the scenes. At one point, The Driver and The Passenger are in a diner and The Driver has been handcuffed to the table leg. The leg is bolted to the floor more securely than any table leg that I’ve ever seen (the first problem). The Driver then continually kicks at the bottom of the table leg instead of the top and there’s just no way that the diner table top was solid enough to hold up to being kicked from underneath. It felt very unrealistic and was the thing that most pulled me out of my movie watching experience.
So, there you have it. If you want a great pair of actors doing what they do best, check out the film… just understand the film’s shortcomings – a weak ending, an unrealistic scene, and a telegraphed twist. I still enjoyed watching Nic Cage on screen and that’s why I recommend this film… Cage is just always a joy to watch.
Sympathy for the Devil will be released in theatres on July 28.
Sympathy for the Devil
Movie title: Sympathy for the Devil
Movie description: After being forced to drive a mysterious passenger at gunpoint, a man finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse where it becomes clear that not everything is at it seems.
Date published: 2023-07-28
Director(s): Yuval Adler
Actor(s): Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman
White Knuckle Flick