'Sympathy for the Devil' review: An unhinged Nicolas Cage drives a standard but entertaining road thriller

‘Sympathy for the Devil’ review: An unhinged Nicolas Cage drives a standard but entertaining road thriller

Like the pain scales doctors show patients to rate their level of discomfort, whether or not you’ll like Nicolas Cage’s new movie, Sympathy for the devil, depends on how high you’re willing to climb the Cage movie acting ladder. Are you a level 2 or 3 fan, preferring the subdued, solemn turns in movies like Leaving Vegas or the recent Pig? Or are you more of a level 8 or 9 person, partial to the crazy shit performances in Deadfall, The Vampire’s Kiss, Bad lieutenant AND Mandy?

Cage’s latest outing is probably a 7 or 8 on that scale, with the 59-year-old star playing a foul-mouthed gangster who hijacks an innocent driver (a very sober Joel Kinnaman) and spends the rest of the film torturing him both physically and psychologically, dropping a few bodies in the process. Cage chews through every scene he’s in and seems to be having a blast: he’s always over the top and never boring to watch, in a film that delivers the goods to those who like it better when he’s nearly lost his mind.

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Sympathy for the devil

The bottom line

Caged heat.

Release date: Friday 28th July
Launch: Nicolas Cage, Joel Kinnaman, Alexis Zollicoffer, Cameron Lee Price, Oliver McCullum
Director: Yuval Adler
Screenwriter: Luke Paradise

1 hour and 30 minutes

Directed by Yuval Adler (The operative) from a screenplay by newcomer Luke Paradise, Sympathy is a short and sinister thriller set in Las Vegas that asks viewers the following basic question: what would he do You What if you were on your way to the hospital where your wife was due to give birth, and Cage suddenly climbed into the backseat of your car, looking like a cross between Ming the Ruthless and a wizard at Caesars Palace? Plus, he’s holding a gun to your head and talking at a mile a minute the way only Cage can.

That’s the predicament faced by Kinnaman’s unnamed chauffeur, who is subjected to all manner of brutal treatment from Cage’s unnamed passenger as the two hit the road and head out of town to a rendezvous in Boulder City. At first glance, Cage appears to have mistaken Kinnaman for a mob accountant who turned their boss in South Boston (Cage’s Boston accent is very sketchy here), and he’s been hiding out in the Las Vegas area for years.

But Kinnaman maintains that his captor is wrong, that he’s just a regular Joe caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, with the wrong passenger sitting next to him. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse that extends to a big – and not entirely convincing – twist in the final minutes. Along the way, Cage’s character kills a cop (Cameron Lee Pierce), does a convincing Edgar G. Robinson impersonation, tells a long, strange story of having a stuffy nose as a child, and lip-syncs to Alicia Bridges’ disco hit “I Love the Night Life” as he traumatizes a waitress (Alexis Zollicoffer) at a roadside diner.

The last scene goes on for a good reel or two, setting Sympathy up there with pulp Fiction AND Natural born killers in the pantheon of movies with explosive sequences of diners, where patrons get more than their money’s worth in violence and mayhem. Indeed, the script for Paradise has a very 90s vibe, from the gruesome action to Cage’s constant one-liners to the guessing game we keep playing as we begin to wonder who, in fact, is the real “devil” of the title.

It’s nothing original, but it’s watchable and even a little funny thanks to the star’s constant antics. Adler, an Israeli director whose award-winning debut in 2013, Bethlehem, was a powerful thriller about the political strife of his homeland, shooting things simply and skillfully, avoiding over-cutting and favoring medium or wide shots to follow the action. The film is set entirely at night, allowing cinematographer Steve Holleran (Missing) to slap in plenty of red filters that channel the satanic fury of Cage’s off-the-wall creation. Together, the director and cinematographer manage to capture the actor in his true form, but never contain him.