Crime cinema allows its fans to embrace big characters. After all, the choice to actively engage in criminal activities can attract very specific kinds of people to professions. Of course, few actors play big like Nicolas Cage. The iconic Nic Cage not only swings for the rafters in Sympathy for the Devil, but he elevates material that could have been less intriguing. Adding his energy to the screen with Joel Kinnaman helps Sympathy for the Devil deliver on its fast-paced, real-time concept.
After dropping off his son, a driver (Kinnaman) rushes to the hospital. His wife is about to deliver their second child after their last pregnancy ended in tragedy. He arrives at the hospital, but before he can park the car, a man (Cage) jumps into the backseat. He then pulls a gun on the driver, telling him to move the car, or he dies. Over the rest of the night, the two men talk about their lives as the driver tries to find an escape to return to his wife.
Director Yuval Adler adds to the tension with his blocking within the car. The camera angles often keep a single character in the frame, which could have left hurt the dialogue. Often, we see two actors that deliver lines to no one. However, the quick cuts in the edit create dynamic sequences. Additionally, Adler incorporates in two-shots wherever possible, even having characters change positions in the car to keep the energy up.
The screenplay gives Cage enough material to go as big as he wants. However, it’s still clear that he adds extra spice to the role. As Cage shapes his character, seemingly playing a man who recently did three lines of coke in a bathroom, he showcases why so many flock to his movies. Simply put, Cage offers so many registers in his performance toolbox, it always feels like we explore a new register in his skillset.
One of the aspects holding back Sympathy for the Devil is its similarities to Michael Mann’s 2004 film Collateral. While some differences exist, especially regarding Kinnaman’s character, the overall structure is too familiar. While Cage does a lot to keep the material feeling fresh, Kinnaman plays it far too low-key. The disconnect between the actors becomes a problem, partly because Cage carries nearly forty years of superstardom with him. Kinnaman cannot match that energy or portray his character in an extremely sympathetic light. Instead, we watch Cage run circles around him.
That’s not to say that Sympathy for the Devil is uninteresting. With enough visual flare from Adler and Cage, it will overcome many of its issues. Yet, with Kinnaman’s character and the writing falling into a formulaic series of events, Sympathy for the Devil is not quite a home run. Instead, it’s an enjoyable but imperfect crime thriller.