The final film to be directed by the late Alan J. Pakula (probably best known for The Pelican Brief and The Parallax View), 1997's The Devil's Own is a decent political action/thriller that puts action and star power over historical accuracy. It's entertaining enough, and a fun watch to be sure, but far from a classic.
The film follows an IRA terrorist named Frankie McGuire (Brad Pitt) who travels from his Irish homeland and heads to New York City to procure some weapons for the cause back home.. He changes his name to Rory Devaney and winds up staying in the home of a cop named Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford) with his family. Rory and Tom soon become fairly good friends.
Rory sets about his business and tries to buy some weapons from an illegal arms dealer while Tom runs into problems at work with his partner, Edwin, who has been up to no good. Eventually, Tom begins to suspect that Rory may not be who he claims to be, and he soon finds himself having to choose between friendship and duty.
The main problem with The Devil's Own is that while it purports to be a movie about IRA issues, it really could just as easily be about any other terrorist/political/occupational dilemma. There's nothing about Pitt's character besides a fake accent to root him in the IRA cause. The film does absolutely nothing to explore or explain the problems that plague Northern Ireland or the reasons for those problems and Pitt could have just as easily been a Palestinian as an Irishman. He's a generic character, who interacts with Ford's stereotypical gruff good guy, a role he's played far too many times before. None of the characters are developed well enough to really get under our skin and as such, what should have been an interesting and politically challenging film winds up as little more than a generic action picture that tries (but ultimately fails) to be more than that. Where's the motivation for Pitt's character? Where's the background story to make us care for him or have any sympathy for him? Why is Edwin such a bad movie stereotype? Why is O'Meara almost as much of a bad movie stereotype? Everything about this film is interchangeable.
There are also a few moments where it's difficult to suspend our disbelief. When we first meet grown up Rory, he's surrounded by British soldiers intent on capturing him. Amazingly enough, he escapes through the back door of the building he's hiding out in. They didn't think to put at least one guy at the back door to stop him? Unlikely. Then there's the whole methodology behind Rory staying with O'Meara in the first place. A sympathetic Irish-American judge sets him up there, and O'Meara, a tough New York cop, takes him in without so much as a second thought as to who this man is or how he might affect his family.
For all its flaws, however, The Devil's Own is at least marginally entertaining. It does have some exciting action scenes and some nice cinematography. It's gritty and violent and fast paced and even if this is all surface-level, it does make for a reasonably fun time killer if you don't expect anything of substance from your action films. Ford and Pitt are capable of much better than they provide us with here, but their performances are still decent even if they should have been more than that. They're both charming actors and as such, it's hard not to like them based on screen presence alone. Pakula keeps things moving and the picture isn't boring - it's just very generic.
The Devil's Own hits Blu-ray in an anamorphic 2.40.1 widescreen 1080p/AVC encoded presentation. Colors look very realistic and detail is nice and strong. Some of the camerawork is intentionally bleak looking but these scenes, like the more colorful parts of the film, are all encoded well. For some reason, skin tones look a little too pink in some scenes. This isn't a constant issue but it's frequent enough that you won't have any problem noticing it. There are some mild compression artifacts present in some of the darker scenes as well as a little bit of obvious edge enhancement in a couple of scenes. Overall, the picture looks quite good but these minor issues keep this from really competing with the better high definition transfers out there.
Dolby Digital TrueHD 5.1 Surround Sound tracks are available in English, French and Portuguese with a Spanish track in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound. Subtitles are provided in Arabic, French, Korean, Spanish, Chinese, Dutch, Portuguese, and English while closed captioning is available in English only.
The audio quality on this release is surprisingly strong. The shoot outs and action scenes pack a nice punch and deliver crisp, strong sound effects and some quality low end for your subwoofer to play with. Directional effects are handled well and make nice use of the rear channels when required, while the quieter scenes deliver clean, clear dialogue with the levels properly balanced throughout.
Unfortunately, this Blu-ray release contains absolutely no extra features at all, just the movie, trailers for two unrelated Blu-ray properties and a few menu screens.
The Devil's Own is worth a watch but it's not good enough to warrant multiple viewings and the barebones presentation doesn't really do enough for the film to whole heartedly recommend it. Consider this one a solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.