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Devil's Own, The Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 July 2008
ImageAs a producer, Alan J. Pakula made one of the best American films, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”  After turning director, he made other excellent movies, including “The Parallax View,” “All the President’s Men” and “Sophie’s Choice.”  It’s a shame that his career, cut short by his death in an automobile accident, kind of petered out.  His last film was this one, “The Devil’s Own.”  While it’s competently made and features good performances, the script by David Aaron Cohen, Vincent Patrick and Kevvin Jarre is drab and routine.  The motivations of characters can abruptly change, with a cause not being well established.  The clockwork plot drives the characters rather than the other way around.  At times, it’s hard to understand where our sympathies are meant to lie.  One character assures another, “If you’re not confused you don’t know what’s goin’ on.”  That could apply to the audience, too.

It begins in 1972 in Northern Ireland, with young Frankie McGuire on a fishing trip with his father.  That same night, as the McGuire family sits down to dinner, armed men burst in and shoot the father dead.  Then it’s 1992, and Frankie (Brad Pitt) has become a cold-blooded IRA assassin.  After a fierce gun battle in the city streets, he hides out in the cool, green countryside.  The next year, he’s sent to America under the name Rory Devaney; he has a mission.

But this is unknown to NYPD patrolman Tom O’Meara (Harrison Ford); thanks to a mutual contact, Tom gives Frankie a room in his house, thinking Frankie’s in America only to do honest work.  To his surprise, Frankie finds himself drawn into the warm O’Meara family.  Tom is pleased to have another man in the house; until now, it’s been just him, his wife Sheila (Margaret Colin) and their three daughters (Julia Stiles, Ashley Carin and Kelly Singer).  The daughters range in age from 9 or so on up to mid-teens, and all are interested in the handsome newcomer. Though he’s a veteran of many years’ standing, Tom is still a uniformed patrolman, out on those mean streets with his partner Edwin Diaz (Ruben Blades), under the direction of Chief Jim Kelly (Mitchell Ryan).  Meanwhile, Frankie contacts Billy Burke (Treat Williams), the tough but smooth owner of several bars—and an illegal arms dealer.  Frankie is there to buy a shipment of small missiles to take back across the Atlantic in a fishing boat.

Frankie also makes contact, and more, with Megan Doherty (Natascha McElhone), who helps him pass the time when a snag comes up in the arms deal.  He hides a briefcase full of money in the O’Meara’s basement and works on the fishing boat.

The primary story of “The Devil’s Own” is about Frankie and his relationship with Tom.  Will the decent, honest Irish cop ever realize that he’s housing an IRA terrorist?  Will Frankie take delivery of the missiles?  All this is pretty simple, which may be why an extraneous element suddenly manifests itself: while they’re on patrol, Diaz mistakenly shoots an unarmed man to death, and Tom has to cover for him.  This complicates things without making them any more interesting, and there’s damned little connecting the Diaz shooting with the rest of the movie.  It’s an element crudely inserted into the movie evidently just to make it run long enough.  There’s also something involving a couple of Frankie’s friends, but it’s hard to keep them straight.

However, we do have interesting stuff to watch, mainly Ford and Pitt, who’re both very good.  It’s largely a male love story interrupting another male love story (Diaz and Tom), and an education for Frankie.  We have no idea what his view of Americans was before he arrives at the O’Meara home, but his views clearly undergo a change, as when he goes to church with the O’Meara family.  He seems to be surprised Catholicism is this important to these Americans.

The movie erratically and clumsily builds to a showdown between Frankie and Tom; just as it began, the film ends on a fishing boat.  We know the certain outcome early on.  Frankie has told Tom about his father’s murder.  “Did they get the f*ckers?” Tom asks.  “They are the f*ckers,” Frankie explains, adding, “Don’t look for happy endings, Tom.  It’s not an American story—it’s an Irish one.”

But what kind of Irish story is this?  The movie is set just a few years before it was made.  Was the IRA still this bloody-handed in 1993?  Were they after missiles to use on their opponents?  We’re given no reason to regard the IRA as anything but butchers—except that Frankie, whom we’re clearly intended to like (hey, he’s Brad Pitt!), is one of this group.  Tom clearly has no sympathy for the IRA (or no longer has it), but is given a stronger reason to distrust Frankie when some of Billy Burke’s men burst into the O’Meara home and almost kidnap Sheila.

“The Devil’s Own” tries to have it both ways—Americans have generally had sympathy with the goals of the IRA, though not with their means.  Is that what we’re supposed to feel here?  Is Frankie a real hero who has come to the unfortunate belief that the means justify the ends?  Or what?

This Blu-ray disc is very good-looking, particularly in the few scenes in Ireland that open the film; high definition is particularly responsive to greens, and Ireland is nothing if not green.  But this story isn’t particularly enhanced by the videos; it would have much the same effect if shot in black and white for a small screen.  Furthermore, the disc has absolutely no extras, not even a trailer.  It’s curious as to why Columbia would issue it at all.

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