Sympathy for the Devil - FrightFest European Premiere
Director: Yuval Adler
Starring: Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman, Alexis Zollicoffer, Cameron Lee Price
Written by: Luke Paradise
Produced by: Alex Lebovici, Stuart Manashil, Alan Ungar
Cinematography by: Steven Holleran
Original Score by: Ishai Adar
After being forced to drive a mysterious passenger at gunpoint, a man finds himself in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse where it becomes clear that not everything is as it seems.
The back seat passenger from hell has long been a niche subgenre of road based thrillers. From Rutger Hauer's vicious hitchhiker in 'The Hitcher' to Tom Cruise's cold blooded hitman in 'Collateral', these types of performances in these types of movies have kept audiences on edge for years. Now we find a man called David (played by Joel Kinnaman) on his way to the hospital for the birth of his child only to be thwarted by a gunman known as The Passenger (played by Nicolas Cage) who has other plans for David, making what should be one of the most memorable nights of his life, memorable for all the wrong reasons.
From the second The Passenger enters David's car, the demented look on Cage's face offers the promise of the night from hell but whether or not the film fully delivers on this promise is widely up for debate. What you do get is Cage sporting jet red hair dressed in a bold blazer in all of his manic glory. Be it through his character's lamentation over the no substitution policy of a diner or lashing out at David for not telling him the truth he wants to hear, Cage makes the most out of every opportunity to chew chunks out of the scenery.
Sporting a Boston accent (that slips during some of his more rowdy moments) with speech inflections akin to Christopher Walken, his performance can be uneven at times but it is never short of being lively and energetic. Fans of his over the top approach will eat up this kind of performance but those who aren't will find it tortuous. The best way to describe it is being the polar opposite to Rutger Hauer's stoic yet deadly villain from 'The Hitcher' yet at the same time they are equally unhinged.
The majority of the film takes place in the car with most character interactions taking place between David and The Passenger. With such a near out of control performance from Cage, Joel Kinnaman is the perfect foil for him. He approaches the role with everyday man manner allowing the audience to identify with him in light of his lack of character but most importantly it is a performance that works well at grounding the film. It is the kind of measured performance that keeps the interactions between the characters interesting during their silent moments because the dialogue does very little to enhance them further.
It is a shame that actors of the calibre of Cage and Kinnaman aren't given better material to work with in terms of the script which feels like it is a 90s sub-Tarantino rip off as they seem to repeat the same exchanges relating to David's past without much escalation. The car may be used as a type of confessional but the cliched nature of the dialogue is far from compelling.
The film itself follows an episodic approach in terms of the action as there is the scene where a cop pulls over the car, the scene with an attempted escape and the scene where the pair stop at a diner which are tied together by repetitive exchanges between David and The Passenger. Rather than propelling the film forward, all it does is make the film feel like it is on a constant roundabout before reaching its anti-climatic finale.
It all makes for what is a rather dull and forgettable film complete with some flat shots and the backdrop effects while the car is driving down the road aren't entirely convincing. The manner in which it is shot as well lacks any real flair and creativity with the exception of the diner scene but even it feels somewhat derivative.
If not for the calibre of the leading actors involved in the film, 'Sympathy for the Devil' would be a throwaway piece of work but to their credit they show dedication to some sub par material making it better than it has any right to be. Their chemistry and the clashing styles in their performances is what keeps the film alive during its more monotonous moments but even this is not enough to elevate the film beyond being average. In short it is a predictable run of the mill thriller held together by two good performances. It is neither heaven sent or summoned from the depths of hell, it simply resides in VOD purgatory.
- Joseph McElroy
'Sympathy for the Devil' received it's European Premiere at FrightFest '23 on August 27th and Signature Entertainment presents 'Sympathy for the Devil' on Digital Platforms 8th September