Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Devil’s Own

Written by Kevin Jarre, David Aaron Cohen, and Vincent Patrick
Directed by Alan J. Pakula

Don’t look for happy endings, Tom. It’s not an American story; it’s an Irish one….

It’s an interesting contrast in this movie – the difference between the Irish-Americans and the new immigrants. The Irish-Americans seem to be desperately wanting to hang onto their Irish heritage, but by the end it is evident that there really is a deep divide between the two. Nowhere is this more evident than during the scene of the family’s first dinner with their Irish boarder. Corned beef and cabbage is served because the family believes he eats all the time. In reality, he has never had it before in his life and doesn’t even know what it is.

As an action film, it’s mediocre. As a statement about the politics in Ireland, it also falls flat. As an examination of the differences in cultures after a generation or two of living in America, however, it’s great.

Brad Pitt portrays Frankie McGuire, also known as Rory Devaney. As Frankie, he watched his father shot to death before his eyes. His father was a fisherman who’s sympathies lay with the Republicans in Ireland. For this he was murdered, and because of that murder, his son turned into a feared member of the IRA. There’s a deep lesson in there about creating a terrorist.

After a spectacular but unrealistic battle with British soldiers, Frankie laments the inability of the IRA to deal with the British helicopters. He decides to remedy this by going to America and purchasing stinger missiles. Yup, that’ll make them talk peace.

Once in America he makes contact with a judge who is an IRA sympathizer. The judge has Frankie – or Rory – housed in the home of decorated New York City police officer, Tom O’Meara (Harrison Ford).

I’ve known a lot of New York City police officers in my life, and I’ve yet to meet on like Tom O’Meara. He is extremely mild-mannered for a cop, and seems reluctant to arrest anyone, never mind shooting at them. At one point during the foot pursuit of a car thief who has fired upon him and his partner, he tells him to throw away the gun just so he won’t have to draw his own weapon and shoot him.

If it’s supposed to be a study in contrasts, it could have been done better. Both Tom and Frankie are sympathetic characters. Frankie demonstrates his softer side while staying with the O’Meara’s. It gives his character sort of a “what if things had been different” edge.

The action only picks up in the latter half of the film, and even then it’s not that well-done. The home invasion which sparks Tom’s suspicions of Rory is unrealistic. In just about every action scene everyone else has bad aim except for Frankie. All the breaks seem to go Frankie’s way that he will walk through the whole thing unscathed, even when his missile scheme begins unraveling.

There’s some beautiful cinematography here, both in Ireland and back in the States. Of particular note are some of the beautiful views of Manhattan before the World Trade Center was destroyed. The scenes where Rory is working on his boat were filmed in Greenport. We were out visiting my uncle who lives the next town over when they were filming, and had I known that this was the movie they were filming there, I would have crawled all the way on my hands and knees just to get a glimpse of Ford and Pitt.

As far as the acting goes, both Ford and Pitt have seen better movies. Pitt has a problem holding onto Frankie’s accent, and that’s distracting at times. Still, he’s believable in his role as a very bitter man with a soft edge to him. He makes both sides of Frankie’s character very believable.

Ford doesn’t fare as well. His character comes off as entirely too laid-back, and often seems like he’s sleepwalking through the film. I think the character would have worked better had he seemed more like Pitt’s character – tough and gritty “on the job” with a softer side at home.

The supporting cast does all right. Ruben Blades is Tom’s partner, Edwin Diaz, who makes one terrible mistake. Yet even after that causes a rift between the partners, he comes to Tom’s aid when called upon. The dedication and camaraderie between the two men is believable largely because of him.

Margaret Colin does a good job as Tom’s wife, Sheila. However, he “big scene” is the home invasion scene and her reactions felt wrong there. Most cop’s wives know how to react and she would have been on the phone and out of the house before Tom had to tell her.

Treat Williams is Billy Burke, the man who is selling Frankie the missiles and ultimately becomes the film’s one true “bad guy.” His character is too one-dimensional to really be believable as he and Pitt face off several times. His best scenes are in the beginning when he talks about being a young man sweeping up in the saloons and turning into someone who now owns several of them.

There is also a cameo here by Malachy McCourt, brother of Frank McCourt, as the Catholic Bishop.

Although this may not be the best action film ever made, or even the best showcase of Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford’s talents, it’s not a bad film.

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