Harrison Ford in a film about the IRA? Thinking of "Patriot Games" and the other Tom Clancy adaptations that had Ford playing CIA analyst Jack Ryan, I couldn't wait to watch "The Devil's Own." But writer Kevin Jarre is no Tom Clancy, golden boy Brad Pitt is no Irish Republican, and "The Devil's Own" is hokey by comparison.
Pitt seems remarkably miscast as Frankie McGuire, a notorious IRA activist who comes to America as Rory Devaney in order to buy guided missiles for the cause and literally "ship" them back to Northern Ireland. There's not enough sun in Ireland for anybody to get a tan, but here's Pitt with his Southern California bronze and, worse, an attempted Irish accent that fades in and out like an AM radio station on a long car drive. Words like "lovely" pull him back into character the way that "Judy, Judy, Judy" did for Cary Grant impressionists. But the rest of the language has Pitt looking (and sounding) a little lost. And he's not helped by a screenplay that seems a little dull for a political thriller, with not nearly enough suspenseful moments, high-octane action, or plot twists to rival the Clancy material.
Director Alan J. Pakula has certainly shown that he can direct a solid political thriller, having given us "The Parallax View" (1974), "All the President's Men" (1976), "Presumed Innocent" (1990), and "The Pelican Brief" (1993). But this 1997 film feels by-the-numbers.
It begins with a sequence in a remote coastal area of Northern Ireland in 1972, where a father takes his son out on the family trawler and teaches him how to fish. But as the family sits down to their evening meal and the father is in the middle of a prayer (not before, and not after, mind you) a masked gunman bursts in and shoots dad right in front of the son he was just praising. A newscaster on the television tells us the father was a "Republican sympathizer," and then we fast-forward 20 years to police talking about Frankie McGuire as a Most Wanted figure because of all the lives he's taken--in retaliation, obviously. But it's that kind of obviousness that pushes this film toward its conclusion. The scene where a policeman gets killed couldn't be telegraphed more loudly and clearly by clumsy dialogue and character manipulation. Logic is the first victim in a grand scene where Frankie and his friends engage in a Bonnie and Clyde shootout with the British soldiers. So many tanks drive up the street and begin firing at the front of the building that it looks like WWII. Helicopters hover, lead flies, but the guys inside seem awfully calm. "Come on, Frankie, we've got to go," one of his compatriots says. Okay. And so they do. They waltz out the back door, where none of the soldiers thought to go. Moments like these make this film feel so artificial that it's hard to get swept up in the drama.
Then there's Pitt, with his alternately lilting and groping Irish accent, with gestures that are equally caught in limbo. More than once you catch him stopping himself from doing the golden boy hair flip.
We won't even get into the beat-up boat that the Irishmen plan on navigating back to the Emerald Isle. One scene shows what a wreck the thing is, with Pitt's character scraping barnacles so big they could have appeared in a Fifties' sci-fi movie. But we don't get much more in the way of explaining how just a couple of guys could fix a ship that size, much less pilot the thing.
Ford does his best with the material, but frankly it's just not as deep or enriched as the IRA scripts he's been a part of in the past. When the basis for the film is a coincidence the size of the Statue of Liberty, it can't go anywhere but downhill from there. How else to explain a plot that has the most wanted IRA activist taking a basement room in the home of a New York City cop, apparently arranged by an Irish-American judge?
With family in such close proximity, you'd think that there'd be more emotional connection, as there was in "Patriot Games." But the most emotion we get comes through Ford's good-cop moralizing. This guy gets not just indignant but emotional when his partner plugs a fleeing criminal when he didn't have to shoot, and he lets a guy go who steals a condom because the teen (or twenty-something) is too embarrassed to buy it. What a guy.
But that's the kind of obviousness that makes this film only marginally entertaining.
Rumor has it that they started shooting this film without a completed script. It shows.
Aside from some atmospheric grain in several long shots, the 1080p picture looks pretty decent for a catalog title. The colors are natural, black levels are strong enough to support a lot of detail, and there don't seem to be any compression artifacts. "The Devil's Own" was transferred to a 25-gig single-layered disc using AVC/MPEG-4 technology, and presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio. The picture quality won't blow you away--there's none of the 3-dimensionality we see in more recent releases, for example--but it won't disappoint you, either.
The audio is even stronger. This is one of the better Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtracks I've listened to on an older film. The range of sounds is superb, and there's a nice spread across the speakers. High-dynamic audio scenes like the gunfights have a robust intensity, but this soundtrack also does a nice job of delivering a rich and full-bodied sound during quieter sequences. The TrueHD audio is also available in French and Portuguese, with Spanish only getting a Dolby Digital 5.1 option. Subtitles are in Arabic, French, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, English, and English SDH.
There are no bonus features. But if you're a fan of this film, don't get upset. There weren't any extras on the DVD release either.
"The Devil's Own" is a disappointing entry in the IRA thriller sub-genre. Ford and Pitt try their best, but Pitt was miscast and both were betrayed by a mediocre script.