Sympathy for the Devil (2023) Movie Review: Ride Angry

It’s almost too on the nose that Nicolas Cage would star in a movie called Sympathy for the Devil, in which his nameless character sports a red blazer and red hair. And yet, here we are. I’m surprised director Yuval Adler refrained from giving him a red goatee, which would have been awesome to see. A little too much? Maybe. But, then again, Cage rarely holds back the eccentricities, even in his real life. For further proof, just watch the most recent 60 Minutes interview he did.

The roles that the Oscar-winning Cage continues to accept are both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. One role has him as a lonely, depressed truffle hunter searching for his pig (Pig), while another has him as Dracula (Renfield). And then you have Sympathy for the Devil, which continues his streak of characters filled with Cage Rage™, whether they be good (Mandy), or, in this case, evil. I will say this, though. Even in the countless bad films he’s done, Cage hardly gives a phoned-in performance. So, credit where credit is certainly due.

Sympathy for the Devil is one of his good ones. His character is unnamed, which opens up a number of potential theories about who this person really is. Could he, in fact, be the devil in human form? Or could he be your typical Las Vegas performer who just finished his latest show? Either way, the Passenger has a mission to make it from Sin City to Boulder, Colorado, to be with his supposed ailing mother. He hijacks the vehicle of expectant father David (Joel Kinnaman), who happened to arrive at the hospital where his wife is preparing to give birth to their new baby. But David’s encounter with the Passenger upends his original plans and leads him on a journey, where the actual destination is unknown.

A few early scenes establish David’s background, such as him dropping off his son at his mother-in-law’s place before going to the hospital to be with his wife (whom we only see in photos and hear over the phone). Most of Adler’s film takes place in the vehicle David is driving, with a gun pointed at his head the whole time as the two conversate about a wide variety of things. The script by Luke Paradise gives both Cage and Kinnaman plenty to work with, and the chemistry between them manages to keep the film’s energy consistent for its 90-minute runtime.

Sympathy for the Devil is told over the course of one night, which allows Adler and crew to craft a tight-knit and contained thriller. It takes a few breaks from being inside the vehicle, such as when the two must make a stop for gas or when they stop to get food at the last possible diner that’s open and nearby. But Adler keeps the tension ratcheted up, with Cage going all-in on his performance – wide-eyed, shouting, and teeth flaring. The Passenger is willing to take a life with zero hesitation. It’s like Paradise wrote the role with Cage in mind, and that’s a good thing.

Kinnaman, mostly known for his roles in The Killing, 2014’s Robocop, and For All Mankind, is the calm to Cage’s stormy presence. But he’s a broken man, as we find out later. His struggles are revealed in the discussions with the Passenger, and the fact he has a gun pointed toward him and is missing the birth of his child is making things worse. It’s a fantastic performance.

The film works best when inside the vehicle, allowing both leads to bounce off each other effectively. Some of the action scenes that take place, while mostly entertaining, have an odd slow-motion effect that doesn’t entirely work. It takes some of the excitement and tension out, even if it is temporarily. But these slight issues don’t take away from the film too much; they’re just a bit noticeable.

Sympathy for the Devil is a wild ride, with Cage giving it his all and delivering another crazy, chaotic performance. While many of his efforts don’t always ride the same wave as the character he portrays, Adler knows how to evenly balance the film and gives Cage enough time to unleash his over-the-top side that many enthusiasts have come to love.

Sympathy for the Devil releases to theaters from RLJE Films on July 28.

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David Wangberg

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