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Sticking to Their Stories

Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt co-star but seem to have separate but equal scenarios in 'Devil's Own,' a tale of the Irish Troubles come to New York.


With two of the world's biggest stars in tow, the creators of "The Devil's Own" can be forgiven for figuring that nothing else really mattered. If you've got Harrison Ford and Brad Pitt, do you really need a coherent script? Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the answer is yes.

Even without reading news reports about the back-and-forth between the two leads and director Alan Pakula about what constituted a film-able screenplay, no one seeing "The Devil's Own" can miss the fact that its IRA-gunman-meets-N.Y.C.-cop story line feels random, haphazard, even patched together.

While Kevin Jarre's original work conceivably had its strengths, the current document, credited to David Aaron Cohen & Vincent Patrick and Jarre, is considerably less than compelling in its final created-by-committee incarnation.

Paradoxically, while the two stars might have been better served if they'd kept out of the script-doctoring business, neither of them can be faulted for their work on screen. In fact the jolts of star power that Ford and Pitt provide make "The Devil's Own" watchable even when it shouldn't be.

The difficulty is that in their apparent rush to see that neither performer got short-changed, the filmmakers ended up creating a pair of equal but separate scenarios. Ford has his own half-movie, thank you very much, and Pitt has his, and though they collide at times, they mostly glide by each other like supertankers in the night.

Pitt's Frankie McGuire is on stage first, introduced as an 8-year-old living such an idyllic life with his family on the coast of Ireland you know it can't last. Tragedy strikes almost immediately, and the film flashes forward to Belfast in 1992 and a grown-up and bearded McGuire as an IRA stalwart so deadly and deceptive he's "never seen the inside of a cell."

What looks like half the British army tries to change that, but McGuire is too much for them and soon he's arriving at Newark Airport with a clean shave, a fake passport and a new identity as Irish immigrant Rory Devaney.

McGuire's American contact, a sympathetic judge, places him as a boarder with salt-of-the-earth New York City cop Tom O'Meara, played by Ford, who thinks the young man is spending his days working construction. Instead, McGuire is refitting a derelict ship and trying to fill it with enough Stinger missiles to change the balance of power back home.

Though McGuire and O'Meara spend a bit of time together doing standard movie bonding at barroom pool tables and the like, they're mostly involved in their own affairs. Pitt does very well as the charismatic McGuire, steely in an acceptable Belfast accent as he negotiates for the missiles with slippery bar owner Billy Burke (Treat Williams) yet soft enough for romance with Colleen Megan Doherty ("Surviving Picasso's" Natascha McElhone).


Ford is equally good and always an object of audience affection as an ordinary cop with a sweetheart for a wife (Margaret Colin) and three young daughters. On the force for 23 years, O'Meara may not be as quick on his feet as he used to be, but he retains a sympathy for the less fortunate and his belief in doing what's right.

So far, so OK, but in what feels like an attempt to give Ford more screen time, an extraneous subplot about a moral crisis that arises between O'Meara and his partner Edwin Diaz (Ruben Blades) is awkwardly grafted onto the proceedings.

More troublesome is that, as noted, "The Devil's Own" never coheres into an involving drama even when O'Meara, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, finally discovers the true identity of the hunk in his basement. The qualities that are most wanted--urgency, authenticity, a sense of lives at stake--are absent under Pakula's uninvolving direction, with the script's increasingly clunky improbabilities not helping much either.

Though their scenes together do have a cross-generational summit conference quality, for the most part Ford and Pitt manage to share the screen nicely, giving "The Devil's Own" a wistful what-might-have-been quality. But maybe that was inevitable. As Devaney tells O'Meara: "Don't look for happy endings, Tom. It's not an American story, it's an Irish one."

* MPAA rating: R, for strong, brutal violence and for language. Times guidelines: a scene involving a severed head.


'The Devil's Own'

Harrison Ford: Tom O'Meara

Brad Pitt: Frankie McGuire/Rory Devaney

Margaret Colin: Sheila O'Meara

Ruben Blades: Edwin Diaz

Treat Williams: Billy Burke

George Hearn: Peter Fitzsimmons

A Lawrence Gordon production, released by Columbia Pictures. Director Alan Pakula. Producers Lawrence Gordon, Robert F. Colesberry. Executive producers Lloyd Levin, Donald Laventhall. Screenplay David Aaron Cohen & Vincent Patrick and Kevin Jarre, based on a story by Kevin Jarre. Cinematographer Gordon Willis. Editors Tom Rolf, Dennis Virkler. Costumes Bernie Pollack. Music James Horner. Production design Jane Musky. Art director Robert Guerra. Set decorator Leslie Bloom. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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