The Devil’s Own (review)

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Get Your Irish Up

The Devil’s Own (starring Brad Pitt, Harrison Ford, Margaret Colin, Ruben Blades, Treat Williams) is an… interesting movie. Not the best movie I’ve ever seen, but not the worst either.

Frankie MacGuire (Pitt) is an IRA soldier on the lam after a bloody shootout with British military in Belfast. In order to hide out for a while, he’s sent to New York City, where he is to arrange the purchase of some Soviet Stinger missiles for the IRA to use to shoot down British helicopters. Hardly the best strategy when one is trying to keep a low profile, but it’s more dramatic than what most Irish guys just off the plane do, which is work construction.
Frankie stays on Staten Island with the family of an Irish-American cop, Tom O’Meara (Harrison Ford in a uniform, which is all I need to know) — again, perhaps not the smartest move if one is a wanted terrorist. But there you are. The movie ends up boiling down to, of course, Frankie’s hard pragmatism against Tom’s battered idealism, and it all ends — as Frankie reminds us several times that it must — sadly, because this is an Irish story, not an American one. (You only need to listen to Irish folk tunes to learn that Irish stories always end tragically.)

(In an ironic reversal of what I would expect from myself, I’m going to praise Pitt and criticize Ford — just a bit. Pitt’s Belfast accent is absolutely perfect, aye, it’s foukin’ brilliant — he doesn’t have an ear for every accent, but this one he got just right. Ford, on the other hand, makes one blink-and-you-miss-it verbal blooper: he uses the word “pop” for “soda,” which is fine for Ford’s hometown of Chicago, but a definite no-no for the native New Yorker his cop is supposed to be.)

The Devil’s Own struck closer to home than any other movie I’ve discussed here. Not that I know any IRA soldiers — at least, not that I know of — but Irish and Irish-American New York is the world I live in. I hang out in the Irish bars and cafes — not the divey Blarney Stones you find everywhere, but real Irish establishments where traditional musicians play, where you can watch European football (soccer to you) matches live via satellite on Sunday mornings, and where at least half the clientele is Irish-born. Woodlawn, the Bronx neighborhood near where I live, is like a little piece of Dublin — you hear more Irish accents than American, it seems. Riverdance and Lord of the Dance — check, seen ’em both. And I’m neck-deep in a theater group called the Thomas Davis Irish Players.

Every Irish character in The Devil’s Own looks like somebody I’ve seen in the pubs and the diners in Woodlawn and over the border into Yonkers where the Irish hangouts are all slowly migrating. (And that’s including Brad Pitt’s Frankie, who kinda looks like this guy I know, so come on out to Woodlawn, girls!)

That’s actually the literal truth in the case of Sean, Frankie’s “lieutenant” who follows him to New York — he’s played by a great Irish actor named Paul Ronan, whom I know. Paul’s been a great supporter of the Davis Players and has acted with other Irish drama groups in the Bronx, and he’s been known to have a pint or two with us in the pubs. (Yea for Paul, who’s having such success — he was even billed above the fabulous British actor Simon Jones here!)

This is one movie that’s been sticking with me — I may have to watch it again before the tape goes back to Blockbuster.

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Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Thu, May 29, 2014 6:01am

Wait! MaryAnn used to go to Blockbuster back in the day? Will wonders never cease?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Thu, May 29, 2014 9:26am

Why is that surprising? There was no Netflix and no streaming. Where else were we supposed to get the latest releases?

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, May 30, 2014 4:10am

Independent video stores?

I realize that such places were not always as conveniently located as the average Blockbuster but they did exist in the 1990s.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Fri, May 30, 2014 9:58am

And there was one near me, and I was a member. But they didn’t always have what I needed.