One of my main objectives with this website is to showcase movies that have fallen through the cracks in a vast entertainment industry that’s been sent into overdrive thanks to the Internet.
Now, this doesn’t mean every film I review will be a hidden gem or a cinematic monstrosity on par with The Room. However, sometimes it means that the subject in question will be a solid outing with a few noticeable flaws that keep it from attaining greatest.
Enter Alan J. Pakula’s 1997 action-thriller The Devil’s Own, a film that received lukewarm reviews upon its initial release and very little retrospective fanfare in the subsequent 20+ years. Which is too bad, because the movie is quite well put together overall.
This is obvious from the first five minutes of the film, which features an intense Michael Mann quality shoot-out between IRA assassin Frankie McGuire (Brad Pitt) and members of the British Army on the streets of Belfast, Northern Ireland. After McGuire survives this fire-fight by the skin of his teeth, he’s sent on a mission to New York City to acquire a bundle of Stinger Missiles that his terrorist brethren will use to rain hot, sweet death on even more government forces back home.
To complete his mission, McGuire takes refuge with unwitting police sergeant Tom O’Meara (Harrison Ford) and his family, who are eventually caught in the crossfire when this weapons deal gets more and more complicated.
(warning: trailer contains major spoilers)
Obviously, the movie’s biggest surface level draw is its star power, since its two leads were at the peak of their own career trajectories at the time of its release.
In 1997, Ford was in the middle of perfecting his mid-aged, reluctant everyman action hero shtick, while Pitt was just starting to prove himself as a “pretty boy actor” who doesn’t hesitate to take on edgier roles.
The pair also play-off each other really well on screen, hammering home the film’s underlining story about two Irishmen from different backgrounds and how their divergent upbringings colour their outlook on life.
If nothing else, it’s good movie to watch with your parents, since mom gets to ogle mid-90s Brad Pitt and dad gets a chance to live vicariously through Ford’s baby boomer grit.
However, this dynamic also highlights the movie’s biggest flaw.
Even though I’m far from an expert on conflict in Northern Ireland, I know that it’s a tricky, intricate subject that’s difficult to do justice on screen. This is especially true in the mid-90s, when tensions between the IRA and the British government were at a fever pitch.
The filmmakers of The Devils’ Own opted to side step this problem by downplaying the rougher edges of Brad Pitt’s character and portray him as a sexy freedom fighter instead. However, because of this, the film runs into problems with tonal consistency. One minute Pitt’s character is a ruthless killer who doesn’t hesitate to gun down government soldiers, and the next he’s shown to be a sweet, sensitive soul who gets down on one knee when he talks to small children.
While Pitt does his best with this material, the contrast between serious drama and romanticized fluff is still very jarring and hasn’t aged very well in a post-9/11 world.
Also, the less said about Pitt’s Irish accent the better.
Despite these hang-ups, the movie is still very well shot and paced, probably thanks in large part to veteran director Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice) being at the helm.
And while The Devils’ Own probably won’t change your life, it’s still a welcome two-hour distraction that does a great job of showcasing two Hollywood heavyweights in the prime of their respective careers.
Corner store companion:
Lucky Charms (for obvious reasons)
-Release date: March 26, 1997
-Budget: $86 million (estimated)
-Box office gross: $140,807,547 (worldwide)
-Unexpected cameo: Julia Stiles plays one of Ford’s teenage daughters (side note: this film was release theatrically two days before her 17th birthday)
-Musical highlight: “God be with you Ireland” by Dolores O’Riordan (plays over the opening credits)
-Shortly before her untimely death in August of 1997, Diana, Princess of Whales, took 15-year old Prince William and 12-year old Prince Harry to see this film. Diana was fiercely criticized in the media for taking her sons to see a rated-R movie that appears to glamorize the IRA.
–The Devil’s Own serves as the final film of director Alan J. Pakula’s career before he passed away on November 19, 1998 at age 70.