Review by Sean Boelman
Nicolas Cage is the rare actor where, regardless of the caliber of the film he’s acting in, he almost always gives 110%. Sympathy for the Devil is not the greatest movie in Cage’s filmography by any matter, but Cage gives such an impassioned turn that the result ends up being thoroughly watchable.
The movie follows a driver who picks up a mysterious passenger who begins to hold him at gunpoint, only for the driver to realize that there is more to this situation than he may realize. It’s an extremely minimalistic film and story, and while it’s not “good” in a traditional sense, it’s sure to be enjoyable by the niche audience of those who enjoy Cage’s B-movie efforts.
With a runtime under 90 minutes, the movie is pretty tight with its pacing. However, as much of this is owed to the bare-bones nature of Luke Paradise’s script as Yuval Adler’s direction. Viewers might be surprised to see just how little violence and action there is in this film, but the movie manages to keep viewers engaged nonetheless.
One of the most frustrating things about Sympathy for the Devil is that it is overly ambiguous. The film’s aspirations are never to be more than a standard B-movie, so why does it play so coy with its themes? Viewers might even spend the first act of the film wondering if there is a supernatural angle before realizing how straightforward it is.
The character development in the movie also doesn’t make a ton of sense. There’s an ominous connection between the characters teased throughout the film, and it is eventually explained through some heavy-handed exposition around the one hour mark. By that time, viewers will either be checked out of the movie or along for the ride.
As is often the case with many of the films he is in, Nicolas Cage manages to single-handedly elevate Sympathy for the Devil from a rudimentary thriller into something legitimately fun. His line delivery, even when the dialogue is less than impressive, is fully committed and over-the-top in a way that’s quite enjoyable. The movie contains what might be one of the Cage-iest Nic Cage moments in recent memory in an inspired rendition of disco classic “I Love the Nightlife.”
Joel Kinnaman’s performance isn’t terrible, but when put up against Cage’s unhinged turn, it feels uncharacteristically dull for the usually talented actor. To be fair, the role doesn’t give him a whole lot to do other than react to Cage’s lunacy for a little over 80 minutes, but it too often feels like the two actors are on entirely different levels.
Sympathy for the Devil hopes to take minimalism to the extreme and deliver simple thrills, and the only reason it is able to do so is the characteristically committed performance by Nicolas Cage. Genre cinephiles who check out everything Cage is in will see this when it hits theaters and VOD in the US this week, July 28 — but it’s unlikely to win over anyone outside of the actor’s cult following.
Sympathy for the Devil screened at the 2023 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs from July 20 to August 9.