The Devil's Own Review
Co-stars are often put together in films, twice the big name billing, twice the audience and revenue, right? In some instances this might almost be the case and in other situations it just doesn't work at all; with The Devil's Own though Alan J. Pakula (All The President's Men, Comes a Horseman and The Pelican Brief) amalgamated two of the worlds most bankable stars in Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt; Ford the more experienced of the two, Pitt the eager youth hot on his heels.
Francis McGuire (Brad Pitt) witnessed the brutal murder of his father in tit-for-tat killings during the Northern Ireland troubles, this obviously has an effect on his allegiances and on maturity joins the Provisional I.R.A rising through the ranks to be a unit commander. This journey sees him murder British Army members and ultimately he flees to the United States. His escape serves two purposes, one is relieving the heat bearing down on him, the second to purchase ground to air missiles to help the I.R.A bring down the British scouting helicopters.
On arrival in the States his contact arranges for Francis to reside at the home of Irish-Americans, cop Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford), his wife Sheila O'Meara (Margaret Colin) and their family. Francis is given a new identity, Rory Devaney, and a non existent job on a building site. Tom knows nothing of “Rory's” personal history and as things turn somewhat sour in Rory's quest to procure the missiles he thinks he so desperately needs, it's inevitable that Tom and his family are pulled into a cat and mouse game, the repercussions of which they were never prepared for.
Throughout movie history there have been a number of suitable pairings, Jack Lemon and Walter Matthau, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, Redford and Pitt as well in Spy Game but this pairing really didn't set the world on fire. I don't think it's their respective personalities because there are glimpses of bonding in some of their interactions (in the bar scene or at the confirmation party for instance) so it is the writing and direction which really fails these top class 'A' listers. The story itself is a simple enough one and once Pitt arrives in the U.S.A. And beds down in the home of Ford and his family you naturally think that this is going to develop into a son/father role. Pitt's character idolised his father and you perhaps think that he'll almost replace his long memory of him with Ford and Ford's teaching; perhaps even re-evaluating the nature of his own activities. Now whilst this might have proved to have been an interesting affair and would have given the actors more scope and depth nothing ever really comes of their relationship and I feel this must be seen as a missed opportunity.
What we're essentially left with is a run of the mill thriller without that many thrills. We have Pitt playing the hard man, admittedly subtly, initiating then trying to postpone an arms deal which ultimately all goes wrong. On the flip side Ford plays the straight as a die cop and his interaction with his cop partner is nothing more than extensive filler and certainly those portions of the film are never needed. They seem to be a waste of time and celluloid, it goes nowhere in particular and adds nothing to the character of Ford other than to reinforce the fact that he plays by the book, only once straying from his chosen path and that in itself makes him question what he is doing. The questioning however should have been levelled at Pitt's character, the need for violent struggle, the need for murder after murder; but as Pitt himself says at one point “If you're not confused by the situation then you don't know what's going on”; unfortunately he does nothing to quell his own confusion, nothing to try and understand it a little better.
The two play their respective parts adequately enough considering there is little meat there to flesh out these characters so you can't fault what they're doing here. Similarly the other characters come across well from the committed I.R.A members near the start of the film, Ford's wife and Pitt's brief love interest Megan (Natascha McElhone). Direction keeps the pace of the film constant raising the pace at the start with an impressive shoot out between the I.R.A and the British Forces. Although there are other areas within the film that demanded a quickening of the pace it never really seems to get into gear after those initial scenes in Northern Ireland; it just sort of meanders through until it reaches an all too clichéd final act and during that act you ultimately know which way the film will turn, it offers nothing of any originality finally resulting in the end that you knew was going to happen earlier than half way into the film.
Alan Pakula directed some of the must see films from the Seventies including All the President's Men, The Parallax View and into the Eighties with heart breaking Sophie's Choice. After this though he seemed to stumble somewhat and The Devil's Own is unfortunately a continuation of this downward trend. It is doubly unfortunate in that he died in a tragic accident just a year after making this feature. So we'll never get to see if he was capable of producing more classics similar to those he tried his hand at at the start of his career. Worth a rental perhaps but not worth taking up space on your disc shelves.