Sympathy for the Devil

A man (Joel Kinnaman) drops off his son with his mother-in-law and drives into Las Vegas, heading to the hospital where his wife is in labor.  But before he’s able to come to a stop in the building’s garage, a man wearing a black lapelled red suit with red tipped hair (Nicolas Cage) slips into his back seat, points a gun at him and demands ‘Pick a card.’  Once the Ace of Spades is chosen, though, the stranger will demand the man drive, eventually informing him they’re heading to Boulder City where his mother is dying of cancer in “Sympathy for the Devil.”

Laura's Review: B

This tight little two-hander of the road trip from hell by writer Luke Paradise and director Yuval Adler ("Bethlehem") is a mystery turned redemption tale by a twist enabled by misdirection.  Featuring yet another great Nicolas Cage performance, this time sporting a credible Boston accent and his own “Five Easy Pieces” diner scene, “Sympathy for the Devil” is a neo noir B movie.

As the man who will eventually refer to himself as David frets over his situation, constantly checking his phone for news from his wife, his passenger notes that he reminds him of a guy he used to know in Boston, a guy who could down a bottle of booze before bedtime.  David denies it could have been him as he doesn’t drink and only visited the city once on a business trip, but his passenger persists, beginning to spin a tale about NY bookies.  Noting a cop, David begins to speed up, hoping to draw his attention, but when his passenger instructs him to pull off the road beneath an underpass, we can figure out what’s coming.  By the time they stop at the Roadside Diner, David will have attempted to roll out of his moving vehicle and his passenger will inform him of what’s really awaiting him in Boulder City.  And he’s made it absolutely clear that there will be no sympathy for David’s status as a family man.

While the mousy looking mustachioed Kinnaman twitches and sweats, Cage keeps the dialogue flowing, teasing out the film’s story with a performance that justifies the entire film.  Pouncing on the ‘no substitutions’ noted on the diner menu, Cage will listen to their waitress (Alexis Zollicoffer) recite the chef/owner’s (production designer Burns Burns) special only to challenge with a cheese change, demanding ‘Who puts mozzarella on a tuna melt anyway?,’ perhaps this film’s most giffable line.  Slithering across the diner to Alicia Bridges’ ‘I Love The Night Life (Disco Round)’ he’ll intimidate an ill-fated trucker before a fiery climax set to Alan Vega’s propulsive ‘Fat City.’

Cinematographer Steven Holleran’s ("Missing") nighttime lensing highlights reds and teals, neon signs and revolving sirens, diner window blinds adding more noir credentials,  Original music by Ishai Adar sounds something like distressed metal, accentuating the film’s on-the-road tension.  Paradise’s first produced screenplay is like a short story with one ace up its sleeve, but Adler’s direction and Cage’s intensely disconcerting yet thoroughly entertaining performance make it a winning hand.

Robin's Review: C+

RLJE Films releases "Sympathy for the Devil" in theaters on 7/28/23.