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Sympathy For The Devil Review

July 25, 2023 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Sympathy For the Devil Image Credit: RLJE Films
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Sympathy For The Devil Review  

Directed by: Yuval Adler
Written by: Luke Paradise

Nicolas Cage – The Passenger
Joel Kinnaman – The Driver
Alexis Zollicoffer – Waitress
Cameron Lee Price – Cop
Oliver McCullum – Boy
Burns Burns – Owner
Rich Hopkins – Trucker
Nancy Good – Grandmother
Kaiwi Lyman Mersereau – Colleague

Image Credit: RLJE Films

Running Time: 90 minutes
Not Rated

There are few things quite like watching a Nicolas Cage performance at this point in the actor’s career. It’s been glorious to watch his career renaissance unfold over the last several years, a comeback that kicked off in earnest with 2018’s instant horror classic Mandy and has since progressed through such diverse films as Color Out of Space, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Willy’s Wonderland, Pig, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, and Renfield. Even when the film itself isn’t always successful, Cage gives it his all and that alone can make the movie worth checking out.

Fortunately, Cage is just one of the things to enjoy with Sympathy For the Devil. The thriller from director Yuval Adler, which had its world premiere at Fantasia International Film Festival over the weekend and opens in theaters on Friday, matches Cage up against Joel Kinnaman in a tense carjacking thriller with some wonderfully wild moments between them.

The film stars Kinnaman as David, a man in Las Vegas whose wife is going into labor at the hospital. Having previously had a miscarriage years ago, they’re both nervous about this time around. After dropping their son off with the wife’s mother, David arrives at the hospital but is confounded when a man in a red jacket (Cage) just climbs into the backseat as he’s navigating the parking garage. The man produces a gun and demands that David start driving, forcing him away from the hospital and down the street.

Despite David’s best efforts, there’s no talking his captor down. The passenger professes to know David. And so, with his wife calling and frantically wondering where he is, David is forced into a road trip with his carjacker, who insists that David knows exactly why he’s in the situation. As they get further and further away from Las Vegas, the passenger starts to lose his patience and David must figure out how to survive the night – while trying to also save a few of the random souls they encounter along the way.

For a cat and mouse thriller, Sympathy For the Devil is remarkably straight-forward. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of little twists and turns that go on, but Adler’s film keeps its set-up simple and economical, propelling Cage and Kinnaman down the road together and injecting new complications only when it’s time to shake things up a a bit. The script by Luke Paradise is playful in a talky way, which lets Adler keep the camera trained on the two lead stars as they bounce off each other.

And that, of course, is where the fun is. It doesn’t waste much time: it takes about eight minutes for Cage to hop into Kinnaman’s car and then it’s off to the races. Cage is delivering what we’ve come to know as a vintage performance from him; The Passenger (as he’s known in the credits) is charming, with a ridiculous Boston accent and bursts of manic energy. He alternates between berating David for using his family to create sympathy for himself and telling stories that suggest there’s more to David than meets the eye, despite David’s fervent protestations otherwise.

While Cage’s fantastically unhinged performance is a highlight, Kinnaman holds his own quite nicely here. While the driver comes off as a bit milquetoast at first compared to Cage’s devil-may-care passenger, he proves quite resourceful as they head down the road. Kinnaman matches Cage’s rhythms and slowly deepens his performance; while David may be on the ropes against the carjacker from the get-go, Kinnaman is never overshadowed and simply plays the straight man in this back and forth dynamic.

Adler sets up some impressive set pieces to keep things interesting, most notably a third-act trip into a roadside diner where some new people get added to the mix. It comes along at just the right time, adding more people for Cage to bounce off of and mentions of “cheddah” that are funnier than they should be every time. But crucially, even when the film gets funny it never forgets that it’s a thriller. Cage’s ability to flip from bizarrely entertaining to deeply threatening on the drop of a dime is on full display here, and Adler’s direction of the final act takes things on an increasingly apocalyptic visual journey, complete with massive fires in the background, yellow and red filters, and a tense score from Ishai Adar.

At its core, there is nothing that reinvents the wheel here. But it also doesn’t want to or need to. Sympathy For the Devil is too busy having fun with its two leads to worry too much about subverting genre conventions, throwing in game-changing plot turns or the like. It’s another entry in Cage’s resume of fantastic villains on par with Dracula, Brent Ryan and Castor Troy – and matched by a top-notch performance from Kinnaman to boot. When we have these two actors delivering at the top of their game, everything else is gravy – or in this case, cheddah.

Sympathy For The Devil releases in theaters on July 28th.

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
If you're a fan of manic Nicolas Cage, Sympathy For The Devil is the movie for you. Cage and Joel Kinnaman deliver knockout performances in a tense and ridiculously fun cat-and-mouse thriller, punctuated by some kickass setpieces and a simple-yet-engaging story to build off of. Director Yuval Adler wisely stages the film around the two lead actors and mostly gets out of their way, setting the stage for what is sure to be another Cage cult classic.