Nicolas Cage really cranks them out. In 2019, he was in six (!) releases. He must have gone into hibernation in 2020, releasing only two. Three in 2021, two in 2022 and now – in 2023 – five! Those five include “Renfield” (previously reviewed) and “Sympathy for the Devil.” His output is sufficient for lesser mortals to stake a career on – just reviewing them. While I will admit to the “lesser mortal” status, I do have other interests in life.
Despite that, I sat down recently to screen “Sympathy for the Devil.” The title is taken from a song written by Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, first appearing on the “Beggars Banquet” album (1968). Nowhere in the song is the phrase “Sympathy for the Devil” actually sung. Rather, there are repeated references to “what’s my name,” “what’s my game” and respect, sympathy and criminality. These are scattered between invocation of some of the more famous atrocities of the 20th century. These are what the film takes from the song.
David Chamberlain (Joel Kinnaman – “Altered Carbon”) is driving to the Las Vegas hospital where his wife is giving birth to their second child. As he pulls into a parking spot at the hospital, a man opens the car’s rear door and jumps in. Confused, David tells him this is not an Uber, but the man pulls a gun and tells him to drive. The man is never identified by name, but there is a taunting reference to his name as the movie plays out. In addition, there are hints that David Chamberlain may not be who he claims to be. Again – what is my name?
This character in the back seat has bright red hair, and a Vegas lounge-type suit – red satin dots with black lapels. He looks like the devil, but is he? Played by the irrepressible Nicolas Cage, he is alternately taunting, viciously threatening and surprisingly courteous. He orders David to drive him to Boulder City so he can visit his dying mother. But that is obviously not the real reason he’s commandeered this particular car and driver.
There are several scenes in which David tries to attract help, including a long scene in which he’s caused a traffic cop to pull them over for speeding. The conversation between Cage’s character and the cop (David is kept out of it) escalates as Cage, beginning courteously and innocently, gradually mounts in outrage at the cop’s brusk, demanding manner (a lack of courtesy and respect?), and ending as you would expect.
The film features a lot of Cage’s patented scenery chewing (in this case car upholstery) and has a great deal of gratuitous brutality. But under it is a tale of two tormented human beings, driven in one case beyond hope, and in the other trying to claw back some humanity. If you can make it past the superficial brutality (and some obnoxious sound effects as the tension grows), you will be rewarded with a sad tale of the human condition.
There is a lesson here that, no matter how many times we learn it, it’s just not enough: we have within each of us a personal devil that can not only makes our inner lives hell, but all too easily lashes out at the world inhabited by our families, our neighbors, and our fellow inhabitants of this planet. Whether it does should be – but is not always – under our control.
Director: Yuval Adler
Writer: Luke Paradise
Producers: Nicolas Cage, Marc Goldberg, Alex Lebovici, Allan Unger, Stuart Manashil
Cinematographer: Steven Holleran
Editor: Alan Canant
Music: Ishai Adar
Passenger: Nicolas Cage
David: Joel Kinnaman
Waitress: Alexis Zollicoffer
Diner Owner: Burns Burns
Trucker: Rich Hopkins
Runtime: One hour, 30 minutes
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