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Film Review: Have No “Sympathy for the Devil”

Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | July 27th, 2023

Film review: “Sympathy for the Devil”

Sympathy for the Devil (Yuval Adler, 2023) 1 out of 4 stars.

Collateral meets A History of Violence in director Yuval Adler’s latest, Sympathy for the Devil. Working off a script by Luke Paradise, Adler (The Secrets We Keep) gives us the by-now-expected manic Nicolas Cage (Renfield) and a nearly soporific Joel Kinnaman (The Suicide Squad), going at it in a late-night drive through chaos. The film is simultaneously riddled with clichés and its own unique mess. It’s hard to have much sympathy for this devil.

Kinnaman plays David, on his way to the hospital to visit his pregnant wife, now in labor, who is carjacked in the parking garage by Cage’s “The Passenger” (as listed in the credits). Is this latter a hitman, some other kind of desperado, or merely a crackpot with a gun? He certainly looks the part of a deranged mobster, with hair dyed an unnatural red and a slick suit. But he very much has a specific agenda in mind.

l-r: Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL ©RLJE Films release

What this is, we don’t yet know. However, through not-so-witty banter we get an idea, even if Cage’s reasons change as we go. First he claims he wants David to drive him from Las Vegas to Boulder City, so he can see his sick mother. Next, though, he outlines a very different plan, hinting that David may actually be someone named James, with whom he had a run-in years ago, back East, in Boston.

Speaking of which, is that some kind of Bay State accent Cage is attempting? It’s hard to tell, since it comes and goes. I love me some wild Cage as much as the next guy, but there’s a limit to how much nonsense I can tolerate. Drop the accent, dude. Trust me: half my family comes from Massachusetts.

Nicolas Cage in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL ©RLJE Films release

Anyway, onward we plunge into the night, Cage threatening to kill David unless he does exactly what he tells him to do. Except he doesn’t, choosing to massacre others. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the violence, nor to David’s passivity. If he is the killer, hiding under an alias, that Cage thinks he is, surely he would be better able to defend himself. Given the ending, it’s hard not to go back and wonder all that came before.

Then again, is it even worth such parsing of the narrative? More often than not, the movie feels like an exercise in Cage-o-mania coupled with random cinematic violence. Even the concluding reveal—not much of a surprise—lends no extra frisson. The evil here is anything but terrifiying, merely a mundane recycling of well-worn villainy.

Joel Kinnaman in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL ©RLJE Films release

Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator, as well as Film Festival Today's Editor. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, Chris is, in addition, lead film critic at Hammer to Nail and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice.

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