You gotta love the '90s. Whereas film studios in the '80s focused on transforming lone wolves like Schwarzenegger into marketable brands, studios in the '90s focused on pairing fan-favorite actors together in pet projects like 'The Devil's Own.' I can practically hear the logic: "We have Harrison Ford... We have Brad Pitt... Audiences love em, sooo... LET'S PUT EM TOGETHER!!!" It took a decade of such mediocre decisions and team-ups before Hollywood began to realize that a strong cast does not automatically create a strong film.
'The Devil's Own' tells the tragic story of Frankie McGuire (Brad Pitt), an IRA soldier haunted by memories of his murdered father and consumed with a lust for vengeance. After nearly being killed by the authorities, McGuire agrees to come to America, purchase a shipment of Stinger missiles, and smuggle them back to his IRA brethren. When he arrives in the States, he's given a new identity and a place to live -- the basement apartment of a police sergeant named Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford). As the weeks go by, Frankie grows close to Tom and his family, and finds a father figure in the world-weary cop. But when Frankie's ruse begins to unravel and Tom discovers his true identity, the two men find themselves on opposite sides of the law.
As a film, 'The Devil's Own' depends on the excellent performances given by Ford and Pitt, who allow their characters to bond naturally in order to heighten the tension as the story approaches its inevitable conclusion. Neither character really has a choice in the matter, as both men have been defined by their pasts and the positions they have taken in society. It's the pain and reluctance with which the actors convey these seemingly unavoidable decisions that serve to highlight their individual talents. As I recall, Pitt was widely criticized for his Irish accent, but I honestly didn't have a problem with it. I thought he sounded like the Irish actors used in the film, and personally, it never detracted or distracted from his otherwise heartfelt performance.
Sadly, when it comes to the actual story, the film falls apart. I appreciate director Alan Pakula's dramatic tone, measured plotting, and methodical pace, but his characters are underwritten and suffer from undeveloped back stories. It doesn't help that the subplots are mercilessly devoid of the same tension that drives the central storyline. The weapons dealer is clichéd, the IRA sympathizers seem like expositional cogs, and O'Meara is derailed by a cringe-inducing subplot involving his partner. Any time Pakula focused on Tom and Frankie's father-son dichotomy, I was mesmerized, but as soon as he turned his camera away from the leads in an attempt to flesh out their surrounding worlds, I felt as if I was watching a collection of scenes from lesser films.
In the end, the whole is no greater than the sum of its parts. Ford and Pitt do an exceptional job, but they're only able to lift the film to a certain height before it collapses under the weight of its own ambitions. Pakula clearly studied a bundle of multi-layered character dramas like 'The Deer Hunter,' 'The Godfather,' and 'Serpico,' but his film lacks the resonance that those classics so aptly provide. As it stands, I won't argue with anyone who enjoys 'The Devil's Own' -- I just won't be reserving a space for it on my shelf.
As catalog titles go, the 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer featured on 'The Devil's Own' presents an impressive effort that looks good in spite of its age. I wouldn't call the palette bold, but primaries popped and colors were vivid all the same. Black levels were quite striking and delineation was revealing -- even the scenes set in Ireland weren't hampered by the bleak cinematography or heavily shadowed sets. Fine object detail is where the Blu-ray edition really distances itself from its standard DVD counterpart. Skin textures, flying debris, and the rust and wear of Frankie's boat are crisply rendered. Sure, there are a handful of soft shots scattered throughout the presentation, but the overall experience is a vast improvement over the DVD.
Unfortunately, the best scenes can't camouflage a collection of minor issues that amount to a problematic picture. Fleshtones are occasionally marred by a flushed, reddish tone that makes the actors look as if they've just finished running a decathlon. It doesn't help that contrast levels are generally solid, but sometimes stutter and shift with instability. More distressingly, bursts of artifacts, spiking grain fields, and hints of edge enhancement appear from time to time to betray the otherwise clean transfer. All things considered, 'The Devil's Own' looks better than it ever has, but it doesn't have the technical assuredness to compete with the best Blu-ray catalog titles.
'The Devil's Own' boasts a dynamic Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track that does a great job handling both the subtleties of the film's dramatic moments and the abrupt explosiveness of its firefights. Amidst the silence and the chaos, dialogue is clean and nicely prioritized in the soundscape. In fact, I expected the bombastic siege near the beginning of the film to be home to a few problems, but the actors' lines weren't muddled or hindered in any way. More importantly, low-end LFE support injects each blast and ricochet with genuine power. I really found myself enjoying the tenacity of the soundscape and the impact of the bass tones throughout the mix. Better still, quiet scenes in Tom's home weren't just anchored to the front channels. Interior acoustics and rear channel ambiance combined to create a believable, naturalistic soundfield.
Technically, the soundfield is impressive as well. Pans are swift and transparent, directionality is spot on, and sound effects are clear. I did notice a bit of hissing and air noise in some of the exterior scenes, but it was a result of the original print rather than the mix itself. The real downside to the audible experience is that it won't catch anyone's attention. Aside from the film's sudden bursts of violence, the TrueHD mix merely handles what it's given as well as can be expected. Fans of 'The Devil's Own' won't find much to complain about, but they won't be blown away either.
Like previous DVD releases of 'The Devil's Own,' this Blu-ray edition doesn't include any special features.
As a film, 'The Devil's Own' is a mixed bag. It offers a pair of powerful performances, but comes apart at the seams every time it isn't focused on the main characters' plights. The Blu-ray edition provides little cause for excitement either. It features a wonderful TrueHD audio mix, but falters with a slightly problematic video transfer and an absence of special features. As it stands, this Blu-ray release easily bests the standard DVD version of the film, but it just doesn't stack up well against better high-def catalog titles. I would definitely rent this one before considering a purchase.