Sympathy for the Devil is an Action-Packed Thrill Ride Through Hell
Posted On July 26, 2023
At this point in his career, Nicolas Cage has built himself a reputation for the unhinged. While no doubt talented, the Oscar Winning actor brings a certain chaotic energy to any project with his name attached and his particular brand of kinetic oration has essentially become a genre in and of itself. Cage fares particularly well when cast as a villain and wise directors allow him freedom to improvise, knowing that he will likely deliver an ineffable dose of unpredictable menace. Sometimes it’s enough to simply set the stage, point the camera, and let nature take its course. In his new road thriller Sympathy for the Devil, Yuval Adler allows plenty of room for Cage to shine. Pitted against an unassuming father, Cage plays a maniacal monster who may be the devil himself.
Sympathy for the Devil begins with David Chamberlain (Joel Kinnaman) driving through the night. After dropping his young son off with his mother-in-law, he then rushes to the hospital where his wife is preparing to deliver their newest child. Unfortunately, the mysterious man watching him from across the street has other plans. A red-haired menace known simply as The Passenger (Cage) points a gun in his face and orders him to drive. Thus begins a hellish road trip through the Las Vegas witching hour as David tries to either escape or acquiesce to the man’s increasingly bizarre demands in hopes of getting back to his family.
With a relatively simple plot, Sympathy for the Devil lives or dies based on the strength of Cage’s performance and the veteran star does not disappoint. With a fiery jacket and hair to match, he delivers every line with a sinister twinkle in his eyes and turns on a dime from friendly to terrifying. Playing opposite this charismatic madman is Joel Kinnaman as the reluctant chauffeur. The straight man of the film, this Swedish actor is equally magnetic and manages to pull attention away from what may be the industry’s most flamboyant action star. Conveying panic with a simple flick of his eyes, Kinnaman brings a quiet physicality to the story and proves to be the perfect foil to Cage’s psychotic gunman. A strong supporting cast fills out the rest of this neon world, but Adler’s film is essentially a dark dance between its two captivating stars.
As a road film, Sympathy for the Devil moves quickly and takes no prisoners. A series of dynamic set pieces, each more explosive than the last, break up strong dialogue through which the mysterious Passenger lays out his plans. The crown jewel is a hellish sequence at an all-night diner that exponentially ratchets up the tension along with the bloodshed. Cage seems to be having a ball in this dastardly role and Adler gives him plenty of room to revel in the chaos. However, even the quiet moments prove to be chock full of terror including a late stage reversal that turns the film’s entire premise on its head.
Despite a relatively straightforward story, Sympathy for the Devil contains a fascinating exploration of family values. Playing off the fatherly archetype Cage explored in 2000’s The Family Man, Luke Paradise’s script dives into why we automatically find parents sympathetic. Does the bullet also go through everyone a slain father leaves behind or is this assertion simply a ploy to extend his own life a little bit longer? Paradise invites us to ponder this question without forcing a conclusion or beating us over the head with moral certainties. Adler’s film is first and foremost a blood-soaked nightmare set in a fading neon world. Questions of archetypes and identity are just icing on the cake.
Jenn Adams is a writer, podcaster, and film critic from Nashville, TN. Find her social media nonsense @jennferatu.