Who doesn’t love Nicolas Cage? These days, we’ve gotten a low-key Cage renaissance too, spurred on by the brilliance of Pig. Since that independent drama re-introduced him to many, he’s been reconsidered. So, something like the two-hander Sympathy for the Devil harkens back to a recent time where the actor would be in almost anything, good or bad. Now, this isn’t a bad film, but it’s fairly anonymous, only elevated by the personality he brings to it. Cage does his best to put the movie on his back, but he comes up just a bit short.
Sympathy for the Devil wants to give you a bit of unhinged Cage, though the flick doesn’t fully know how to use him. Sometimes, you can’t take your eyes off of him as he goes to town on the thin material. Other times, he’s almost a distraction. When that’s the case with as singular an actor as he is, you know that something has gone amiss.
We meet our protagonist (Joel Kinnaman) as he’s dropping off his first child before driving to the hospital for the birth of his second. In the garage, as he’s about to park and go meet his in labor wife, a gangster (Cage) gets into the back seat and demands he drive. So, off they go into the night. At first, it seems random, though once the body count begins, it becomes clear that the violent man believes that this mild-mannered driver is hiding a secret.
The rest of the runtime features the torture inflicted by one to the other, oftentimes psychological, though sometimes physical as well. The passenger is convinced that the driver is actually an in hiding mob accountant, one wanted by some very bad men. As his wife keeps calling, the terrified father contemplates what he can do not just to dispel his captor of that this notion, but also to make sure he survives the night. Twists and turns and more violence ensue.
Nicolas Cage is certainly having a great time here, completely let off the leash. More often than not, it works for this film, even if it feels like he’s kind of left to his own devices. Cage is never uninteresting to watch, so even when he’s in service of the undercooked plot, he does his best to keep you intrigued. Joel Kinnaman, however, plays this mild-mannered individual as nearly catatonic, so the stakes never feel real. The pair never develop any chemistry, either, which might be intention, but in a two-hander, is a flaw. Supporting players in this small cast include Burns Burns, Cameron Lee Price, and Alexis Zollicoffer.
Director Yuval Adler and writer Luke Paradise lean heavily on Cage to keep this from becoming a slog. It’s a fine calculation, though Adler does nothing to take script by Paradise and add to it. The plot itself is something we’ve seen done in many a way many times before, so it needed a flourish. We get Nic Cage, but little else. Sympathy for the Devil wants to have that be enough, but it just isn’t. It’s missing that extra bit that makes it feel like a complete work.
Sympathy for the Devil is the Nic Cage show, for better or worse. Some will delight in his wildness, while others will wish for more. I was left wanting a bit more, personally. Cage is having a blast, again, and I appreciated it, but the rest of the flick is just not on his level. If you’re only in it for him, this could be low level fun. Otherwise? It’s going to come up short.