The Devil's Own
Screenplay : David Aaron Cohen, Vincent Patrick, and Kevin Jarre
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : Harrison Ford (Tom O'Meara), Brad Pitt (Rory Devaney/Francis "Frankie" McGuire), Margaret Colin (Sheila O'Meara), Rubén Blades (Edwin Diaz), Treat Williams (Billy Burke), George Hearn (Peter Fitzsimmons), Natasha McElhone (Megan Doherty)
For a film headed by Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt about such highly charged subject matter as the IRA and the deception of a father-figure by his adopted son, "The Devil's Own" is awfully dull.
While it was in production, there were rampant rumors of ego wars between the two stars and endless script revisions, so severe that Pitt wanted to walk out because the working script bore little resemblance to the one he read when he chose to do the movie. Whether or not the stars were feuding is best left to speculation by the supermarket rags, but the script doctoring should be taken into consideration because it left a firm imprint on the final product. The film never manages to maintain a rythm or style because it feels roughly assembled out of smaller parts of better movies.
The film quickly dispenses with any notion of mystery by showing us right up front that Pitt's character, Rory Devaney is an IRA terrorist named Frankie McGuire whose politics were influenced as a child by watching his father gunned down by his enemies. We know he's going to New York to purchase stinger missiles from an evil arms dealer (Treat Williams), and we know that when Ford's character Tom O'Meara, an honest and upright Irish-American cop, takes him into his home, he has no idea of Pitt's insidious plotting. So, because there is no mystery to unravel, the film relies wholly on the suspense of wondering how long it's going to be before Ford figures out who Pitt is, what he's doing, and what the ultimate consequences will be to their newfound relationship.
As the film unfolds, it strings together a couple of scenes that give us the idea that Ford and Pitt are bonding together in a sort of adopted father son relationship -- they have their Irish backgrounds in common, they shoot pool together, the trade ethnic jokes back and forth with the local Italians, they put their arms around each other for a photo at a party. Plus, Ford has spent most of his adult life living in a home with a wife and three daughters, so as he puts it in the film's best line, "I'm just glad to have someone else in the house who pees standing up."
Director Alan J. Pakula ("All the President's Men," "The Pelican Brief") goes through the motions of setting up a political thriller, but it never comes together because the underlying emotions are so scarce and hollow. Never once are we tricked into believing that the film really cares about the IRA or its politics -- it is merely a plot element that could easily be replaced with something else. "The Devil's Own" has neither the understanding of the IRA's motives displayed in Neil Jordan's "Michael Collins," or the realization of the true havoc it can reek on both sides of the war and the innocents in between, displayed so well in Jim Thompson's "In the Name of the Father" (even though Terry George, that film's co-screenwriter was an uncredited script doctor here).
Pitt does his best to fit into the role of Frankie McGuire, but despite an accent better than most of his contemporaries, he still looks like Brad Pitt doing an Irish accent. Maybe that's bias, but I can't help but think that this film would have benefited from casting an ethnic Irish actor in the pivotal role. Ford never looked quite so old as he does here, but maybe that's just because I've gotten used to seeing him youthful and vibrant again in the "Star Wars" re-releases. His role is supposed to be that of the father-figure, but every once in a while you can feel him trying to forget his age as he muscles up to Pitt's youthful exuberance.
It's unfortunate that "The Devil's Own" isn't the movie it could have been. It seems to me that this is a classic example of the foibles of modern filmmaking, where big name directors and stars begin making big-budgeted films without completed scripts or a coherent vision. Maybe it's proof that no matter how big the star power and how experienced the director, if they're not right for the movie, it won't be any good.
Oh, and one other thing. What does that title refer to?
©1997 James Kendrick