With excellent performances from Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman, Sympathy for the Devil is one hell of a psychological thriller worth riding out to the very last second!
I was beyond excited to screen Sympathy for the Devil, and man, it did not disappoint! Nic Cage fans, buckle up, because this is one enthralling ride! Cage is a master at portraying the perfect amount of sarcasm wrapped in psychological intensity as one sexy beast with an affinity for the color red. In my best Bill Murray from Stripes voice, Nicolas Cage, YOU are a madman! Sympathy for the Devil is one hell of a psychological thriller, worth riding out to the very last second. It poses the question of whether you think you can ever truly identify the Devil and have sympathy for him or her, even if that devil is yourself.
From RLJE Films, Sympathy for the Devil is directed by Yuval Adler (Bethlehem) and written by screenwriter Luke Paradise, who is known for this flick and a plethora of others in development and post. The story follows the fate of a man known only as The Driver (Joel Kinnaman, of Suicide Squad) after he’s forced at gunpoint to transport a mysterious passenger (Nicolas Cage, of Renfield) to his desired destination. The Driver soon finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse where it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems.
Kinnaman is a husband and father of three—one deceased, a young son, and one on the way—in a rush to get to the hospital for the birth of his third child. As he arrives and parks, he notices a shadowy figure standing under an awning. Before he can even turn off his car, the back door opens and The Passenger (Cage) slips in and points a gun at The Driver, does a neat little magic trick and that infamous Nic Cage laugh, then gets serious and says, “Drive.”
Most of the movie takes place in the car as the two drive, with most of the action unfolding in wicked banter between Kinnaman and Cage—mostly from Cage, though. Let’s be honest: Pretty much everything unfolds through Nicolas Cage when he’s involved in a project, and Sympathy for the Devil is no exception.
Cage works masterfully to give us quite the performance, as we try to figure out who his character really is and where his motives lie. Slowly, the truth begins to emerge in broken bits here and there but even then, we know a key piece is missing. The real action surrounds that piece of information, which we get a taste of when The Passenger takes control of a roadside café with his psychotic rantings and subsequent actions. That scene—no pun intended—is absolutely killer.
I don’t know about you, but there isn’t much that’s more fun to watch than Nicolas Cage flipping on out people in a psychotic rage … except maybe watching John Wick take down bad guys with hardback books to the face, but I digress. There’s no better choice for this role other than Cage. Through his quirks and enthusiasm, he emotes the perfect amount of crazy to put your senses on guard and satiate your psychological hunger.
We presume in this movie Cage is the devil, and Adler takes every effort to imply he is. The Passenger boasts blood-red hair and a fancy blood-red suit and is a bad guy doing evil things. He takes pleasure in watching The Driver agonize over not being able to be with his wife. But is that all Adler is trying to say? Definitely not. One thing I love about this movie is the use of the color red, intentionally splattered throughout both to foreshadow and to reinforce the presence of the devil and, ultimately, danger. Smartly done.
Kinnaman delivers a solid performance as an ordinary family man who finds himself in an unfortunate situation and is only complying so he can get to his wife’s bedside and see his child born into the world. He’s confused and a little panicked when The Passenger hijacks him at gunpoint, but he acquiesces and agrees to drive the man to Boulder City to see his sick mother, who is allegedly dying of cancer. What he does not know is that along the way, his passenger will psychologically torture him to bend to his will and he’ll take pleasure in doing so.
I must admit, I got a little bored and frustrated with Kinnaman’s character and the steps he doesn’t take as the story progresses, but by the end, as you’ll see for yourselves, this is all for a reason. And what a reason it winds up being!
Now, I know what you’re thinking here, and the answer is no, this is not just Collateral with Nic Cage and Joel Kinnaman. The films might share the similarity of good guy driving bad guy around, but that’s about it. In Collateral, Max (Jamie Foxx) was a taxi driver hired by hit-man Vincent (Tom Cruise) to drive him somewhere; in Sympathy for the Devil, The Driver (Kinnaman) is kidnapped and forced to drive, and The Passenger (Cage) is not a hitman. The two stories and messages are very, very different, so don’t short yourself with a silly presumption and miss out on seeing this film.
Kinnaman and Cage deliver on their acting skills, and Adler successfully brings Paradise’s story to life with gritty vision, but do keep in mind this is more of a psychological thriller and less of an action film, like it’s billed to be. So, just be aware. Also, I feel like the sound editor missed a huge opportunity with the music. I’ll go ahead and say now that the soundtrack isn’t the best, short of what’s playing the moment Cage slips into Kinnaman’s car at the hospital. There are several scenes where the music is distractingly annoying and completely detracts from what’s happening on screen, and there are times when the right music would’ve enhanced the air of mystery or injected a sense of fear and chaos.
Overall, Sympathy for the Devil works pretty well as an enjoyable thriller with an entertaining amount of crazy and a big twist at the end, which will hopefully leave you, like me, wanting to see the other side of the story fleshed out in a sequel. A girl can dream …
Sympathy for the Devil will be released in US theaters on July 28, 2023.