Nicolas Cage as a manic, sarcastic, carjacking lunatic with control issues? Sign us up. In director Yuval Adler’s (The Secrets We Keep, Bethlehem) dark comedy thriller, Sympathy for the Devil, Nicolas Cage is totally unleashed. Fun to watch? Yes. Does it wear thin? Yes. Will you care? Ultimately, by the end, no.
Cage doesn’t cover new creative ground here (see Vampire’s Kiss, Raising Arizona, or Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans for peak manic Cage). He seems pumped up from the critical raves he received in 2022’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent yet undeterred by the WTF-ness of it all that was Renfield. The Nic Cage we get in Sympathy for the Devil is a cross between those two “performances.” Regardless, the man drives this tale, which was penned by screenwriter Luke Paradise.
The plot finds Joel Kinnaman (The Killing, Suicide Squad, For All Mankind), playing against type as David, a by-the-book married man on his way to a Las Vegas hospital where his wife is in labor. That doesn’t go as planned. A spiky red-haired, red blazer-wearing brooding fella (Cage) suddenly carjacks him and begins barking out orders to drive out of state. So begins this wild road trip filled with plenty of Cage histrionics.
Just Shut Up and Drive
Early on, poor David tells his mysterious passenger to please consider sparing him from whatever dangers lie ahead. “I have a family emergency,” David insists. To which his passenger, angry eyes widening, points a gun and barks: “I’m your family emergency now.” Onward they go, with David continually asking the intruder why he’s doing what he’s doing. “Sometimes, the worst is exactly what you should assume,” the stranger tells David at one point, then reveals he wants to see his mother, who apparently is dying in a hospital in a nearby state. David knows better. His unwelcome passenger is unhinged.
As the film goes on, it becomes clear that the mystery man is out for revenge, and that he is directing it all toward David. But why? They’ve never met. His carjacker isn’t so sure, insisting that David tell him the “truth.” It’s befuddling and unnerving to David, who’s fretting about his wife in the hospital. He’s forever plotting an escape but as the minutes pass by with the angst-ridden guy in the backseat, David seems stuck. Until the police show up.
The script takes a severe pivot at this point. David’s scheme to speed up after spotting a squad car has dire consequences. At this point, the mystery man is in the passenger seat of the car and if there ever was a master class on how to act like a slippery, narcissistic, revenge-seeking, foaming-at-the-mouth, conman with more than a hint of borderline personality disorder — to extrapolate a bit — then this scene is one of many where Cage becomes teacher extraordinaire. You can’t take your eyes off him, in fact. Nor would you want to. It’s a tour du force performance for the books. But relying on just Cage’s frenetic performance shouldn’t be the ultimate end game.
A Wild Nicolas Cage Flick
Look, Nicolas Cage commands the screen in almost everything he appears in. But Sympathy for the Devil‘s script tends to rely too much on Cage’s hysterics. Director Yuval Adler must have been thrilled to work alongside Cage, who fully immerses himself in the role. And while the director does an exceptional job at keeping things as grounded as he can, ultimately the film feels like an outlet for Cage to let loose, go full stream-of-consciousness, and chew up the scenery.
Luke Paradise’s script is broken into three parts, with the final part unfolding in a diner. The drama and danger increase in each section of the movie. The diner scene, in fact, looks eerily familiar to another upcoming film called, ironically, The Passenger. That film stars Kyle Gallner as a troubled soul dragging others along for the ride. If only there was a way to blend these two films together, because Sympathy for the Devil needs a tad more grounding, and The Passenger needs some creative spice. Both films are pretty good. Watching them, you realize they both could have been better.
That said, we’re not being offered a big-budget film from one of the major studios in Sympathy for the Devil. There’s enough here to keep you interested and engaged. Nic Cage? Sure. But there’s also something captivating about Joel Kinnaman’s performance in the movie and the underlying mystery waiting to be solved. The last 20 minutes may truly surprise you. The big twist, which creeps up on you, may provoke a welcome eyebrow raise or just a shrug. Either way, if you’re craving a wild Cage movie that takes place in the dark of night and ultimately becomes about two men confronting the past, then buckle up and enjoy. This one knows how to step on the gas.
Sympathy for the Devil, from RLJE Films, hits theaters and is available on demand July 28.