Movie review: 'Sympathy for the Devil' muddles tense scenario

Nicolas Cage (L) and Joel Kinnaman star in "Sympathy for the Devil." Photo courtesy of RLJE Films
1 of 5 | Nicolas Cage (L) and Joel Kinnaman star in "Sympathy for the Devil." Photo courtesy of RLJE Films

LOS ANGELES, July 24 (UPI) -- Sympathy for the Devil, in theaters Friday, establishes a sound premise with two compelling leads, but spins out of control before the viewer can get too invested.

David (Joel Kinnaman) is on his way to meet his wife in the Las Vegas hospital, as she's going into labor with their second child. While stopped, a passenger (Nicolas Cage) gets in David's backseat and holds him at gunpoint.


At first, the passenger seems to just need a driver. It may be easier for David to just go along with it, except that he needs to get to the hospital immediately.

The passenger takes David's driver's license, which would prevent him from checking into the hospital among many other problems. The passenger also forces David to indulge in his card tricks as a form of intimidation.


Cage has only played outright villains in a few movies like Kiss of Death and Face/Off. So, the role of the passenger gives him another opportunity to apply his flamboyant performance to a threatening character.

Sympathy for the Devil gives the passenger an intimidating look with a red blazer and hair to match. Cage flashes a maniacal grin and hints of a mild Boston accent.

Unfortunately, the passenger's mania seems random, which may be a disturbing psychosis in real life, but it's not the most compelling cinema. It reduces David and the passenger to a simple good guy and bad guy with little nuance.

The passenger's collection of outrageous behavior is so arbitrary it is hard to be genuinely disturbed by it. The passenger imitates Edward G. Robinson, sings Alicia Bridges and dances.

The excuse to be flamboyant undermines the threat. It becomes less about antagonizing David and more about just performing.

Cage gave a similar performance in Vampire's Kiss, but that movie explored that character's breakdown. Cage remains entertaining to watch, but the movie loses focus of his function in the story.


Kinnaman keeps up David's end of the drama. David is accommodating enough to stay alive, but also looking for a way out.

David makes a few escape attempts but obviously he's not going to get away in the first half hour so the film is just going through the motions, stalling. Plus, the passenger gave the game away that he's not going to kill David.

Also, once the passenger has David drive them outside Las Vegas, where does David think he's going to go without a car? It's all remote.

The passenger eventually reveals the reason he chose David. Without spoiling it, the explanation makes the entire sequence of events seem unnecessary.

The passenger had a gun in the backseat. He could have come clean, or done so at least once they were outside The Strip.

Sympathy for the Devil had the potential to be a tight "all-in-one-night" thriller. The cast is game, but unfortunately the script fails to keep up the tete-a-tete for the duration of the film.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


Latest Headlines