Sympathy For The Devil review: Nicolas Cage and Joel Kinnaman go for a drive

Joel Kinnaman & Nicolas Cage in Sympathy For The Devil.
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Nicolas Cage gives an enthusiastic performance as a passenger who takes Joel Kinnaman hostage in Sympathy For The Devil.

Yuval Adler is a filmmaker who’s used to making thrillers – ones with excellent talent in the centre of them, too. 2020’s The Secrets We Keep saw him work with Joel Kinnaman, Noomi Rapace and Chris Messina. His latest, Sympathy For The Devil, sees him reunite with Kinnaman, but also adds one other essential ingredient – Nicolas Cage.

The film is a solid thriller, but it’s the two lead actors who really tie everything together. Sympathy For The Devil doesn’t break the mould when it comes to the genre. It presents two strangers, The Driver (Kinnaman) rushing to be with his wife as she gives birth, and The Passenger (Cage) as he gets in the back of the car, points a gun at The Driver, and orders him to drive with no clear destination. It’s Cage does Collateral, though the main similarities are that it takes place mostly within a car and the antagonist sporting a distinctive hair colour. In this, Cage pulls off a devilish red.

As they drive away from Las Vegas and through the Nevada desert, the movie takes the reds and blues of the city’s neon signs and uses it as the main colour palette for its lighting. It serves to accentuate the air of mystery around our main characters. We know very little about Cage, and very little about Kinnaman, though he seems very much like an average Joel (my apologies). The Passenger alludes, however, to another man he thinks The Driver may be – one with a sordid past. It falls to us to slowly piece things together. Who’s telling the truth? And what is the real purpose of this hostage situation?

Screenwriter Luke Paradise puts together an interesting enigma, and that’s heightened by some really good central performances. Cage, I’m sure you’ll be glad to hear, goes full Cage, adding his unique flourishes to what could otherwise be a generic bad guy. He’s an actor who’s known for working on a lot of independent, low budget films, but also for giving his all to his roles and never phoning it in. The same applies here.

The streak of madness he imbues The Passenger with is counteracted by Kinnaman’s normality. His character comes across as the typical average guy, but that lack of anything interesting is what makes Cage’s performance stand out. It also adds to the stakes, the feeling that something so scary could happen to the most normal of people. Cage’s character is anything but grounded, and Kinnaman seemingly knows that he needs to be that grounding force for the movie to work.

As their journey progresses, the mystery and action ramps up. It culminates in a scene in a diner that’s extremely satisfying. It’s especially welcome as the car journey does sometimes drag a bit – though there are interesting sequences interspersed with the driving as Kinnaman tries to outwit Cage.

Sympathy For The Devil is at its best when it’s upholding its central mystery. There’s a lot of ambiguity to the story and the characters, and that’s what keeps it interesting. Once that mystery begins to unravel, and comes to a very definitive conclusion, the film loses some steam. It almost needs to hold on to a little bit of the intrigue that it builds, and leave some room for doubt. Without that, the mystery of the characters fizzles out, and leaves not an awful lot left of interest.

Sympathy For The Devil is out now on digital platforms.

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