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I say this making no pretense at completely understanding the Irish
conflict myself (you'd have to ask someone with experience of Belfast for a
more authentic take on the situation), but the irresponsible way the
troubles were used here as a backdrop to what is supposed entertainment
staggers me. It isn't as if it needed this detail; the terrorist could have
been from any unspecified organisation. In the incompetent handling of
sensitive issues that the makers really have no idea of, the production team
involved in this really have let themselves down. Brad Pitt realised this
too late and henceforth disowned the film, a fact which made me admire and
respect him even more.
For this I wanted to hate the film, and yet found myself unable to. Beneath the misbegotten attempts at 'political comment', there is a decent little thriller struggling to get out. Pitt is great as the terrorist (dodgy accent aside) and Ford is as reliable as ever in the role of the honest cop. Director Pakula keeps the story moving at all times and stages the action well. Despite all these pluses, I constantly felt uncomfortable at the ways in which the script tried to manipulate my sympathies. While it's not quite enough to make me downgrade the film on an enjoyment level, it loses big points from an ethical perspective. Shame on you Tinseltown.
This film is just a second-rate thriller which uses Northern Ireland as a convenient backdrop to add colour. Unfortunately, the portrayal of Belfast and the terrorists and intelligence community is stereotypical, romanticised and hugely inaccurate. The gun battle at the beginning is just ludicrous and from then on the film becomes a showcase for nauseating Irish-American 'culture,' all blarney and dreaming of the 'oul country. The acting doesn't help as Ford sleepwalks and Pitt can't maintain the accent. It is possible to make good thrillers set in Northern Ireland which do not dodge the politics and have sensitivity, but none of them have been made by US production companies. 'Harry's Game' is by far the best example, devastatingly accurate closely followed by 'The Children of The North' and the black comedy 'Divorcing Jack' more recently. See these and give this Hollywood rubbish a miss.
There seems to be a certain template for making "Oirish" movies in
Hollywood. Add some or all of the following ingredients to your movie
- Aran Sweaters, a sub-Deliverance rural setting, comely maidens with red
hair, a village idiot (teeth optional), impromptu céilís and dancing at
crossroads, priests, drunken violence and the obligatory "Ooh arr,
accents and you have an Irish film. And if you want some controversy, why
not try to tackle the situation in Northern Ireland by adding in some IRA
men for good measure. Unfortunately, the Devil's Own has quite a few of
aforementioned clichés in abundance.
It is a great shame that with a cast and director of this calibre, they couldn't have come up with something better. There have been very few, if any, decent films ever made about Northern Ireland and perhaps it's time Hollywood stopped trying to put forward its own take on it, especially when it is as cack-handed as The Devil's Own. Not only is the whole movie grossly offensive to Irish people, and anyone else with a brain, but it is a dangerous message to be sending out to gullible Irish Americans. It's time film-makers stopped buying into the idea that the IRA are noble warriors when in fact they and others of their ilk are terrorists, pure and simple.
Avoid this like the plague. Brad Pitt's accent is the least of the problems in this film. He just isn't convincing as the cold-blooded killer he is supposed to be - he's far too nice. Harrison Ford is his usual reliable self but too much of the movie is taken up with a largely irrelevant sub-plot featuring himself and Ruben Blades as his police partner. At times, The Devil's Own seems like an IRA film mixed up with NYPD Blue.
As a child in Ireland, Frankie McGuire (Brad Pitt) sees his dad gunned
down for his involvement with the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As an
adult, McGuire has followed in his dad's footsteps. When the IRA
decides it needs more firepower, they hatch a plan that involves
McGuire going to the United States to pick up a shipment of Stinger
missiles. Through American IRA contacts, McGuire adopts a false
identity and housing is arranged with a non-involved Irish family
headed by New York City cop Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford).
There is an impression that The Devil's Own is an action film. The Internet Movie Database has it listed as "Action/Drama/Thriller". Although there are some action elements in the film, this is really a tragic drama, almost in a classical sense, and it's best to approach the film with only that genre in mind. The plot is fairly complex and the film tends to move slowly--much more slowly than a typical actioner or thriller.
The heart of the story is McGuire's relationship with O'Meara and his family. All of the other material--the IRA stuff, the mob and terrorist stuff, the New York City cop stuff, and so on, are not the focus. Those elements are present to help establish characterization, to build the relationship and understanding between McGuire and O'Meara, and to provide a justification for the developments in the film, and particularly the conclusion, which all have poignant things to say about the decisions that we make and why we make them.
The film largely succeeds if seen from this dramatic perspective. It's not quite a 10, however, as it always seems slightly distanced from the viewer. It's an 8 out of 10 for me.
(This comment was originally posted on January 16, 2005 and ended with the above. The following was added much later after reading through some other user comments:) We should not forget that even though it takes elements from the real world to construct its story, The Devil's Own is NOT intended to be journalistic or a documentary. There is no claim that it is giving an accurate portrayal of political situations, and it's not intended to campaign for one side or another in a real-world political situation. This is fiction, folks, and should be judged _as fiction_. For that, you should forget about what you know of the real world, and assess the story, images and sounds you experience from your television. Does the story work as a self-contained entity? Are the performances good? Is it visually attractive/rewarding? Those are the kinds of things we should be judging.
For me, The Devil's Own succeeded as a drama about relationships, with its poignancy arrived at primarily by making two people from very different worlds, with very different outlooks, learn to see things from different perspectives.
That's great if you're very knowledgeable about Northern Ireland in the real world and if you have strong opinions about terrorism. However, your knowledge and opinions on that stuff have nothing to do with this film.
A large part of Brad Pitt's genius as a movie star is his ability to pick
scripts. "The Devil's Own" certainly indicates a lapse in judgment, but to
Hollywood tough guy, an IRA role is irresistible. You get a leather
a ski mask, a machine gun and a cool accent. The Ulster accent is, as
movie star knows, very easy to master: just randomly scramble your vowel
sounds, say "fook's seek" frequently--and you're Oirish!
But far more laughable than the accents are the action scenes, which are so badly choreographed and edited, it's hard to believe the film is a Hollywood product. First there is Sean and Frankie's shootout with "half the fookin' army," which they win. Then they escape because the British forget to watch the back door. Also, there is the mysterious appearance of a vast forest in the middle of downtown Belfast, into which IRA terrorists can easily escape when cornered. Next there is the shootout with Billy Burke, in which Frankie somehow manages to fire three rounds from a double-barrelled shotgun (taking out a sniper who, oddly enough, falls forward from the impact of a shot in the chest), retrieves his pistol and fires the same shot twice--hitting Billy Burke, who for some reason counted to ten before lunging for his own gun.
The biggest mistake was in casting Harrison Ford, a lead man who commands $20,000,000 per film, and putting him in a supporting role, which of course had to be rewritten and elevated to a co-lead. The result: instead of a film about an IRA terrorist who comes to the States to buy munitions (which is a good precept), we get a film about a New York cop who's got an IRA terrorist living in his basement. Anyone who initially proposed such a story to the studio would have been turned down, and that would have been fortunate for all involved.
In fairness to Pitt, he did try to walk away from the project, and in order to save face, ridiculed the movie before it hit the theaters, which suggests that he had more sense than anyone else on the set.
"The Devil's Own" is one of Hollywood's periodical ventures into the
murky world of Irish politics. Harrison Ford, who stars here, had five
years earlier starred in another such film, "Patriot Games". There is,
however, a difference between the two films. "Patriot Games" is an
action thriller which simply uses the Northern Ireland situation to
provide a motivation for the bad guys; they happen to be Irish
Republican terrorists, but they could equally well have been Islamic
militants, or Russian spies, or Mafia hit-men, and it would have made
little difference to the film. "The Devil's Own", by contrast, aims for
something more ambitious.
The two main characters are Frankie McGuire, a member of the Provisional IRA on a mission to New York to purchase weapons, and his landlord Tom O'Meara, an Irish-American police officer. For about two thirds of the film Tom does not know that his lodger is an IRA man; indeed, he does not even know the young man's real name as Frankie is using the alias Rory Devaney. Tom is only enlightened towards the end of the film when he discovers in "Rory's" bedroom a bag containing millions of dollars. (Are the IRA so amateurish that they would entrust the money for their arms deals to a man who then leaves it under the bed in someone else's house?)
His discovery of the truth puts Tom in a difficult position. On the on e hand he disapproves of violence so cannot allow Frankie to go ahead with his plan to buy missiles for the IRA. On the other hand, he does not want any harm to come to the young man, so tries to protect him from the FBI and MI5 agents who are on his tail. (It is quite possible that the British security forces might set up hit squads to hunt down IRA men, but it seems highly unlikely that such squads would be permitted to operate on American soil with the full knowledge and cooperation of the US authorities).
There is also a sub-plot involving Tom's attempts to cover up for his partner Eddie, who has shot dead a criminal who was running from him. Tom tells his superiors that the man was armed, although he had already thrown away his gun before being shot.
I felt, however, that this sub-plot was never properly integrated into the main film. I was not surprised to discover that the film went through several rewrites after the original script was discarded, as it had the feel of a film written by a committee. Each member of the committee, moreover, appears to have had his or her own agenda. One member wanted to make an action thriller, a second wanted to make a political commentary on the Northern Ireland situation and a third wanted to make a character-driven psychological drama exploring Tom's ethical dilemma in having to choose between the demands of friendship and his obligation as a police officer to uphold the law. Eventually the chairman, who had the casting vote, ruled that the film would be a mixture of all three approaches.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with a film which attempts to work on several different levels. The trouble with "The Devil's Own" is that it doesn't really work on any of them. As an action thriller it is too slow moving, with most of the action crammed into the opening and the ending. As political commentary it is too obviously slanted towards a pro-IRA position with a misguided attempt to make Frankie a sympathetic figure. (That is perhaps only to be expected from Hollywood, particularly in its pre-9/11 period. Americans who approve of this should ask themselves how they would react to a British film which tried to glamorise Timothy McVeigh or the Unabomber). As a psychological drama it is dull and the Eddie subplot is never successfully integrated with the main action.
The film was turning out so badly that one of its main stars, Brad Pitt, wanted to leave the set and was only restrained from doing so by the threat of an injunction. Rather surprisingly, therefore, Pitt's performance is one of the better things about this movie. (His Irish accent, too, is quite convincing). He is certainly better than his co-star Harrison Ford who actually described this film as one of his favourites. Although Tom O'Meara is a role of the sort in which Ford normally excels- a decent, solid family man confronted with a crisis- his performance here is a dull, stodgy one, and not one of his best.
Overall, the film is a disappointment, despite its two major-league stars and its major-league director. This was the last film to be made by Alan J. Pakula before his tragic death a year later in a road accident. Pakula was responsible for some excellent films, notably "Sophie's Choice", so it is a shame that his career did not end on a higher note. 4/10
Considering that the era of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland has
largely come to an end, and the IRA is rarely heard from anymore (the
fight over Northern Ireland's status having been successfully moved by
the peace process into the political realm) this movie has a somewhat
dated feel even though it's not even 15 years old yet, dealing as it
does with a young IRA operative (Brad Pitt) who comes to America to buy
weapons for use back home. On his arrival, a sympathetic Irish-American
judge arranges to have him stay with a local Irish-American police
officer (Harrison Ford), who isn't aware of of the IRA connections.
Eventually, the arrangement comes to endanger the lives of the
officer's entire family.
I'll grant that the two lead performances were pretty good. Pitt as Francis (or Rory, as he called himself in America) and Ford as O'Meara both seemed to capture their characters quite well. The first hour or so of the movie was rather slow-paced, but it picked up once O'Meara put everything together and figured out what Rory was all about. I was somewhat put off by what I thought was an implicit pro-IRA sentiment in this. At the movie's opening, Francis is sitting at the kitchen table at the age of 8 while his father says grace before a meal, only to have presumably unionist gunmen break into their home and shoot him in cold blood. It seemed to me that this was almost a way of justifying Francis/Rory's later actions, and it's even said at one point that "if I had seen my dad shot dead in front of me ..." Sorry, one can't justify those acts. "I'll do this because you did that," which means that a cycle just gets started that's hard to climb out of. Both IRA and unionist gunmen should have been ashamed to call themselves Catholic and Protestant, their actions having nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, whom both Catholics and Protestants claim to follow.
Pro-IRA sentiment aside, I still thought this was a rather weak movie, saved somewhat by Pitt and Ford.
What is it with American-Irish? Some of their richest and most respectable
members have poured millions of Dollars into the IRA, harboured some of
their members, idealised the notion of a "fight for freedom". Believe me,
a Scot, with William Wallace et al I've always had a certain affinity for
But the IRA are no heroes. They've become Northern Ireland's drug-dealers,
extortioners, gangsters. The people of Ireland as whole have had enough of
them and their way of terrorising innocent people. May it be the IRA or
UDP, the notion of a Catholic V Protestant jihad has long ago turned into
simple cycle of self-perpetuating violence. These men and women are no
longer anything resembling the oh-so glorious Michael Collins, they are
terrorists who don't know when to quit and never knew anything but how to
These men aren't the Brad Pitts of the world, nor is the British Army an
oppressor anymore (considering that over 90% of the locals support the
simply because it provides protection).
Yet in 1997 we still got the great toss of this movie, showing us how
Irishmen fight against an onslaught of British stormtroopers and evil
men. Somehow it seems that America is hell-bent on keeping up the idea of
the stiff upper-lip English villain. May it be The Devil's Own,
U-571 or most recently The Patriot, Hollywood seems bent on demonising the
US' closest ally, both politically and culturally.
I may not be a great fan of the English, but even I know what harm
stereotypes can do. Perhaps the writer should have gone out to the streets
of Belfast and asked ordinary people what they think of the IRA. Perhaps
writer should have also approached a soldier and asked him what it's like
occupy Northern Ireland. Somehow, I have severe doubts that a movie about
the post-WW2 SS-"Werwölfe" guerillas would be quite so
And this movie has a Riverdance sequence. Oh please....
Nobody enjoys Alan Pakula's movies like I do. Klute is one of my favorite movies. Young people do not know the stories surrounding the making of this movie. The release kept being postponed and word leaked out of open warfare on the set between Ford and Pitt and their huge differences over what kind of movie they wished to make. The movie shows the result. As other reviewers have pointed out, we have reflective scenes, action scenes and IRA stuff, as in Patriot Games, all blended together in one big, brainless collage. What is left are some good scenes, in places, but there is no coherence to the movie or the slightest thematic unity. You will watch some scenes and ask why: we are watching them play pool? Why are we watching the entire confirmation ceremony of Ford's little daughter? It slows the narrative down to a glacier. We have the two disparate stories, Ford's corrupt partner he must turn in and the IRA story of Pitt going on simultaneously going back and forth from one to the other like a teeter totter. What the result of the war is, you can easily divine how peace was struck. Each of the leads get some of the scenes they wanted and the movie is obliterated.
It really is two movies in one. Ford's wrestling with whether to turn his idiot partner who killed an unarmed man, or the IRA story of Sean and his quest to buy Stinger missiles from crooked arms dealer Treat Williams. This goes back to the beginning where Sean and the IRA decide until they shoot down some English helicopters the war is lost. Frankly, the Ford story is boring beyond belief. We get some romance with his wife which again slows the movie down. We and other people yelled: pick a movie!! The sad part is the Pitt story is great and every time it picks up steam back to the Ford crap we go. Treat Williams is great as a crooked, sadistic arms dealer who you should never trust. The ending is moving and well done but it will only anger you at the movie that might have been. Frankly, the Ford story bears no thematic congruency with the IRA story and I cannot but wonder if it is here simply to give Ford more screen time.
The family rituals: dinner, confirmation, pool, walks on the night streets, why are these here? Pitt's parts are the only ones worth watching but the movie defies you to keep it on. Just as your interest in the compelling IRA story unfolds, back to Ford, his squeeze and their eternal social calender. It was in our paper that the original director quit or was fired and was replaced by Pakula. There was plenty of press how neither of the two leads would ever work with the other again. Whatever the soap opera, this is one absolute mess. If you really like the Pitt Irish story, you are going to have to endure plenty of extraneous crap that will really annoy you. If only these two idiots could have worked together what a movie this might have been. I am sorry, I cannot recommend this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are a number of Hollywood productions that use a foreign political
conflict as a cheap backdrop for an action flick to give it a sense of
urgency and authenticity -- many of which, incidentally, Harrison Ford chose
to star in (I always get confused and mix up The Devil's Own with Patriot
Games and Clear And Present Danger, mainly because Harrison always seems to
play the same, generic character with the same, generic wife), but this one
manages to take the price for most dubious politics AND being dead boring as
well. Quite a number of commentators seem to take the view that "hey, it's
not a documentary", but I wonder whether their reactions would have been the
same if the "freedom fighter" had been Palestinian ("his father has been
killed by the Israelis and now he's out to buy Stinger missiles to fight
back against the occupation of his home land") or Iraqi ... I dare say that
the reception wouldn't have been quite so sympathetic. As it is, the movie
stands for a time before 9-11, when the US position on terrorism was
slightly less well defined, if not totally different altogether.
But even taken as mere entertainment, this flick fails miserably. Starting with the preposterous title; then there is only one blood-guns-and-explosions action scene, at the very beginning (noble freedom fighters vs. the Forces Of Evil). Next, both the good guy and his opponent are, ahem, good guys, which necessitates the introduction of some more bad guys to keep the plot moving: namely the weapons dealer (boy, didn't they ever try hard to make him look sinister -- I was already expecting a scene where he serves beer to some college kids without asking to see their licenses first) and Harrison's cop colleague; actually, when he first showed up I thought that he looked somewhat sinister for a good guy --pock marks, greasy hair, Hispanic -- until a bit further in the movie it miraculously turns out that, naturally, he IS a baddie after all! Director Alan Pakula masterfully rounded this off with some of the most nauseating cinematographic stereotypes in the book -- especially the use of quaint Irishy flutes full blast whenever the subject comes to Ireland, but I also found the scene where the two terrorists play war with water hoses quite memorable. In a way I'd wager that because the film tries so hard to cover up its sympathies for the militant Irish Republican cause it derails so badly in the entertainment department.
But like I said, this movie is quite interesting, if only for historical and political reasons. Nowadays you it would be impossible to produce a movie which so blatantly justifies terrorism (now that the US have become the victim) or that portrays the British so badly (now that they have become allies #1). Watch this as an example for how quickly attitudes can change.
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