The Devil's Own
directed by Alan J. Pakula
(Columbia Tristar, 1997)

IRA member Francis "Frankie" McGuire, the ruthless killer of numerous British soldiers and police officers, is in New York to buy Stinger missiles, which he plans to smuggle overseas into Ireland to use against British military helicopters. Rory Devaney is a kind-hearted young Irishman trying to make a fresh start in America, where he has been warmly accepted into the home of the Irish-American O'Meara family.

But McGuire and Devaney are one and the same, and the distinctly different faces they present to the world are part of the emotional power driving The Devil's Own.

The film, tightly directed by Alan J. Pakula (whose credits include All the President's Men and Sophie's Choice), carefully avoids taking a position in the Irish struggle -- except maybe the position of peace. The brutality of both sides is portrayed here, and it's hard not to feel a mixture of empathy and horror for the actions of both sides.

But the movie isn't about politics; it's about people. Specifically, it's about Frankie (Brad Pitt) and Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford), the New York City cop who takes him into his home.

It's also about choices, or the lack thereof. It suggests that Frankie had none from the moment a Loyalist assassin's bullet killed his father and shattered his childhood -- despite the various opportunities he passed along the way where he might have started his life over again. Nor did Tom have a choice once he learned his guest's true identity and mission -- despite his own affection for the boy and his sympathy for his cause.

Much of the film deals with what might have been, focusing a great deal of screen time on Frankie's easy absorption into the O'Meara household. His obviously genuine affection for Tom and the O'Meara children makes the conclusion seem inevitable -- that Frankie will assume the Rory identity permanently and make a new life for himself under the caring wings of his new family.

But, as Frankie tells Tom on two occasions during the film, this isn't an American story, it's an Irish one ... so viewers shouldn't expect the obvious happy ending. But the ending we get is anyone's guess right up 'til the credits roll.

Besides Ford and Pitt, the film boasts several strong actors, including Treat Williams as the arms dealer Billy Burke, Margaret Colin as Tom's wife, Sheila O'Meara, Ruben Blades as Tom's partner, Edwin Diaz, and Simon Jones as the relentless British agent on Frankie's trail.

The Devil's Own is a potent, powerful film which will likely leave viewers unsettled by the time the credits roll, but it's a movie worth watching. Anyone who thinks there are easy answers to the unending conflict in Ireland may gain a better perspective by the film's end -- but, global issues aside, this is a solid, emotional piece of storytelling.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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