This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL being covered here wouldn’t exist.

What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. However, that doesn’t stop anything that happens outside of Sin City from trickling in. In the case of SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL, a case of mistaken identity leads to the past coming back to haunt an expecting father. With far-reaching fingers, someone’s past actions have come to take root in Vegas, leading to a turbulent, violent showdown between two men. While the story itself hits standard beats, watching Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman go shoulder-to-shoulder will be satisfying for viewers. Just remember to keep your car doors locked after viewing.

The Driver (Joel Kinnaman) is frantically trying to get to the hospital where his wife is going into labor. Amid getting ready to leave his car, a red crayon-colored-headed Passenger (a wide-eyed Nicolas Cage) enters unprompted. Holding the man at gunpoint, the Passenger tells the Driver to drive to an unknown destination. From this point until the very end of the film, we watch as these two engage in a game of cat and mouse, while information gets pulled slowly and surely until the big reveal.

Having seen Yuval Adler’s The Secrets We Keep, Kinnaman’s Driver being shrouded in mystery felt familiar. Here, we see him play against type, where his glasses and more withdrawn, collapsed body hint at physical weakness. The Driver is quiet and subdued compared to Cage’s more flamboyant Passenger. If you’re a fan of Cage’s wilder, over-the-top performances, his Passenger is certainly up there. You just may need a little more forgiveness for his attempt at a Boston accent.

The devil’s in the dialogue


SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL plays out as expected for a film in this genre, but the back and forth between the Driver and the Passenger keep things flowing. Cage’s Passenger bares a lot of the weight, with his dialogue filling in some of the answers we seek but also serving as weapons against the Driver. He’s punched up and running wild with his energy, sometimes overpowering the Driver in the process.

In comparison, Kinnaman’s Driver has less to work with. Playing the role of the innocent, he’s left little to do except find new variations in telling the Passenger that he’s got the wrong guy. As the film progresses, there is a gradual unveiling of sorts within the Driver as he starts pushing back against the Passenger. It is in these slow and steady reveals that we realize that the Driver perhaps doth protest too much.

Where things come to a head (and arguably one of the strongest moments in SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL) is the diner scene. From the production design to the music to Kinnaman’s Driver reaching a point of pushback, everything has led to this tensely fraught moment. It is here that everyone fires on all cylinders which makes for compelling viewing.

From a visual perspective, cinematographer Steve Holleran captures everything between our two competing men. Close-up shots leave little room for escape, allowing the audience to hone into nuances depicted in the face. Bright reds punctuate the shadows, hinting at devilish intent beneath the surface.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL reminds us of nuance

Director Yuval Adler excels in his ability to bring forth performances that balance mystery and dimension. It’s not the first time he’s worked with Kinnaman. This time around we’re allowed a chance to see Kinnaman explore the many different micro-layers of his character.

Working with Luke Paradise’s dialogue, we can see the various levels the actors are hitting well, especially considering Cage’s balls-to-the-wall Passenger. The Passenger could have benefited from a bit more nuance. That said, the opposing personalities here lend themselves to keeping the viewer drawn. It begs the question, “Who will survive between these two?”

As far as the devil may go, SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL reminds us of the nuances that even the devil in our heads may carry. No one is wholly innocent. We all can be the enemy in someone’s mind. The reasons for the villainy? Varied. But, by the end of Adler’s latest film, perhaps you too may find sympathy for the devil. You just need to watch until the explosive end to learn who is the devil of this piece.

SYMPATHY FOR THE DEVIL will be released exclusively in theaters and on demand on July 28, 2023. The film had its world premiere at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Sarah Musnicky
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