Nicolas Cage took a serious turn in 2021’s “Pig,” reminding us of the Oscar-winning actor lurking within the VOD darling.
Suddenly, years of maniacally over-the-top performances (“Mandy!” “Willy’s Wonderland!”) got shoved aside, earning him some of the best notices of his career.
Cage couldn’t stay constrained for long.
“Sympathy for the Devil” lets Cage pull out his bug-eyed stops. That’s wise since this 90-minute thriller needs every ounce of Cage’s magnetism to keep us waiting for the big reveal.
When it comes, it’s a veritable “meh,” but who wouldn’t watch an unhinged Cage hold our hand until that moment?
Joel Kinnaman stars as David, a frazzled father expecting his second child. His wife’s last pregnancy ended in tragedy, so he wants to be by his wife’s side for the birth. He’s a dad, and he thinks he can will his child’s safe entry into this world.
A wild-haired stranger has other plans.
Cage’s unnamed “Passenger” jumps into David’s car in the hospital parking lot, flashes a gun and tells him to drive.
The cat and mouse game is on. Cage’s character is a stone-cold killer, chewing the scenery as only the “Raising Arizona” star can. David, desperate to reunite with his wife, will do whatever it takes to be by her side.
What if we’re not privy to the whole story? Or perhaps nothing the Passenger says can be trusted?
It doesn’t take long to realize there’s only one way this ends, but it’s still a gas to watch Cage alternately threaten and sweet talk the people they meet along the way.
Of all the memorable lines I’ve heard at screenings this week, one of my favorites is when Nicolas Cage in “Sympathy For the Devil” says, “I’ve never been happy. You know why? Sinuses.” #WaitWhat pic.twitter.com/sQWI0Qojlf
— Richard Roeper (@RichardERoeper) July 20, 2023
Director Yuval Adler teases us with style, from the ripe soundtrack to some sharp compositions. He could have gone the full Tarantino-lite, but his restraint here helps the movie. The characters matter more than any, “look at me!” directorial flourish.
Luke Paradise’s screenplay paints the Passenger as a Boston native with a gift for cultural references. He’s no dummy, but he’s also lacking discipline and a moral code.
That tension keeps the story taut, as do the constantly changing situations. What fails “Sympathy” is the back story, the motivations behind the core characters. The film can’t sufficiently flesh them out, and the character’s current actions don’t capture what brought them to this place, this confrontation.
None of that matters when Cage is sinking his teeth into a sequence, flashing his still-potent charisma despite the Passenger’s bloodlust.
You never know what he’ll do or say next, and that spiky turn is enough reason to watch this “Devil” to its conclusion.
HiT or Miss: “Sympathy for the Devil” needs an over-the-top performance to sell its unsteady screenplay. Nicolas Cage is the perfect man for the job.