Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil

2023, NR, 90 min. Directed by Yuval Adler. Starring Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman, Cameron Lee Price, Rich Hopkins, Alexis Zollicoffer.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., July 28, 2023

The best Nicolas Cage movies are those in which he has seen the face of God. But we're not talking about his 2014 adaptation of the smash hit evangelical horror series, Left Behind. It's in films like Pig, Mandy, Lord of War, Leaving Las Vegas, and even the eternally divisive 8MM, in which his characters have or have had their "naked lunch" moment. Their conflict is less about an antagonist and more metaphysical, a fight with the uncaring nature of the cosmos. Such roles mesh with Cage's style, sometimes described as mega-acting, and therefore bring other characters to the same sometimes bleak enlightenment as he has achieved.

That's why grim noir Sympathy for the Devil, while still being a lesser entry in the ever-expanding Cage canon, features an unmissable Cage performance as the unnamed Passenger. He could easily be dubbed the Carjacker, as he sticks a gun in the ribs of the similarly unnamed Driver (an emaciated Kinnaman) and tells him they're going on a little road trip.

This is a Cage we haven't seen in a while, the unhinged Cage, the young and reckless Nicky Cage who heckled the more mature and reserved Nic Cage in meta-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Cage himself seems to have deliberately shied away from invoking that maniac energy: For 2016 heist flick Dog Eat Dog, director Paul Schrader had cast Cage as loose cannon Mad Dog, but the actor told him he didn't "want to play the crazy one this time" and instead took the part of steady-handed crew chief Troy. But the Driver would be drinking buddies with Face/Off's Castor Troy if they didn't kill each other first.

A shock of dyed red hair, a chiseled circle beard, and a scarlet suit that looks like he stole it off the cooling corpse of a lounge singer. The Passenger doesn't just look like a cartoon devil – he is trying to look like a cartoon devil. He's seen the face of God and is pissed at him. An evangelist for nihilism, there's a reason that he picks this driver to be his Driver, a reason revealed as he plays increasingly grotesque and ultimately violent mind games. Kinnaman responds with deliberate understatement, creating a fascinating juxtaposition that highlights both performances.

Sympathy for the Devil feels like a B-movie noir, the kind that would run before a bigger title. But that's a commentary on its scale rather than its quality. It's mean, gritty, and brutally nihilist, its mystery unwrapping before it strangles you with its perfect meanness. If noir is about, as the old saying goes, bad people doing bad things for good reasons, then Sympathy for the Devil bleeds in all the right ways.

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Sympathy for the Devil, Yuval Adler, Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman, Cameron Lee Price, Rich Hopkins, Alexis Zollicoffer

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