by Mark Leeper
We still don't know much about Mark Leeper, but he writes a damn good review!
Donnie Brasco -- Kolya
Sling Blade -- Private Parts
terrorist comes to the United States to buy weapons and brings mortal danger to
an honest cop and his family. Alan J. Pakula directs Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford in a thoughtful action film whose
strongest feature is that it does not have a pre-digested point of view on the politics of Northern Ireland. The film is a taut
and not surprisingly violent thriller, but the BBC does better on a skimpy budget.
Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4)
THE DEVIL'S OWN cost a reported $90-100 million to make. Ordinarily that is of little interest to me as a viewer since I pay the about the same ticket price to see it as to see a little inexpensive independent film. But it should be noted that this is not a subject matter that requires a big budget. Whatever was good in this film was done far more intelligently but on a television budget in the British made-for-TV thriller HARRY'S GAME (1982). With the exception of bigger (but not more realistic) action scenes THE DEVIL'S OWN offers little that HARRY'S GAME did not. (For all I know there may be other equally good thrillers on this subject from the BBC that just never made it to this country. But I do notice that the previous Harrison Ford IRA- related film, PATRIOT GAMES, borrowed the music of HARRY'S GAME in apparent homage.) Perhaps the real virtue of THE DEVIL'S OWN is a moderately even-handed approach to the politics. These days it seems unusual to have a major action film which covers politics and which does not make it obvious which side is right and which is wrong. Leaving audiences to wonder about which side to be on in a conflict is not generally thought to reflect well at the box-office. It is only a minor touch in THE DEVIL'S OWN that the story does not come right out and take sides. It is the most refreshing touch that it is left to the viewer to decide. Perhaps the writers, and there were at least four, felt that pushing one point of view was not really crucial to tell the story.
At a young age Frankie McGuire (to be played as an adult by Brad Pitt) saw his beloved father gunned down at the dinner table by masked Protestants. Two decades later Frankie is an IRA terrorist who has killed more than twenty people and British Intelligence is trying desperately to stop him. Frankie's next project involves stinger missiles and he has to go to New York to buy them with a large satchel of money. A sympathetic judge finds lodging for Frankie at the house of honest cop Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford). Tom, glad to have another male in a house full of women, has no idea of who Frankie is or what he is really doing. The two men are each interested in the other's country and culture, each surprised at what he discovers. They begina friendship that the viewer knows can only end only in violence. Violence is key word and not all of it is over Northern Ireland politics. But the even-handedness in treating these conflicts even extends to partially justifying a halfworld-ish bar owner and arms dealer played by Treat Williams. This is a film of many different conflicts in which nobody is entirely right or wrong.
This admittedly is a minority opinion, but Harrison Ford is not a particularly expressive or charismatic actor. In spite of his popularity he has a limited acting range and does not project much personality beyond weariness. The same can be said of many other actors, but few of his repute. Pitt carries his role with a thick, at times impenetrable Irish accent, that is reasonably convincing. Their friendship could easily devolve into a simple father-and-son relationship, but it is more complex than that with Ford playing the innocent compared to the generally more worldly and certainly more experienced Pitt. The cinematography by Gordon Willis creates mood by matching the darkest moods of the characters with dark murky scenes in Ulster and in New York.
THE DEVIL'S OWN is more sophisticated and intelligent than most of the action films in the theaters these days, but this expensive production is still not up to what the BBC can do on a skittles and beer budget. There was little on the screen to justify the enormous cost of the film. Still, I rate THE DEVIL'S OWN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale.
More info about Devil's Own at the Internet Movie Database