Do not expect to make any sense of the plot of The Devil's Own - this is about as far from an intelligent analysis of the situation in Northern Ireland (as responsibly dealt with by Michael Collins or In The Name Of The Father) as it's possible to get. Although we're shown that revenge for the shooting of his father is the main motivation behind IRA man Francis McGuire (Pitt), nothing of his situation is properly explained, perhaps because it's all but impossible to give a well-rounded picture of the subject. The film virtually ignores the history, rights and wrongs of the Troubles, preferring to paint Pitt as an attractive, charming anti-hero (who just happens to have the odd use for guided missiles) and Ford's honest cop character, Tom O'Meara, as an equally loveable guy. Circumstance just happens to have put them on different sides...
Since the set-up stands up to scrutiny about as well as a leprechaun called Wayne, you soon start worrying about other things, like Brad Pitt's doomed struggle to pull off a half-decent Irish accent. Wily Brad teases us by not saying much at first, and mumbling what few lines he does have under his breath, never talking long enough for you to work out whether his brogue is any good or not. ("Y'aaaroight, there, Tammy?" is a typical piece of delivery.) Not until towards the end of the film does Brad flash us a short burst of his acting skill, bringing his characterless protagonist alive too late in the day. (Wondering about Ford's performance? Oh, c'mon, don't be dumb. Seasoned pro.)
When The Devil's Own does work it's down to the performances of its two stars, Ford's usual decent man contrasting well with Pitt's uneasy, troubled, villain. They bond over a game of pool, buy each other Guinness, listen to jiggy music and - this is when director Alan J Pakula goes full throttle with the Oirishness - allow some woman into their house to carry out that most epileptic of grooves, the Riverdance. Together, they're skilled and attractive enough as actors to make even the ludicrous scenes work. Pitt actually shoots someone in the kneecaps (more, you suspect, because that's what Irish terrorist blokes do than because it might help the plot along), yet remains likeable afterwards. Some feat.
Yet you can't help but feel that all this is so much Polyfilla between the good bits (guns, ricochets and people going "Ow!"). As a thriller, The Devil's Own is reasonably well thought out and neatly structured, boasting excellent opening scenes packed with ambushes, counter-ambushes and counter-counter-ambushes. But it's let down by some moments of utter cheese. An example: Frankie and limpid-eyed
Irish beauty Megan are sitting very, very close together at the docks - her newly recruited to the cause and nervous; him calm, softly spoken and gazing deep into her eyes. And graaaaadually they rise as the tinny love music from the radio behind them begins to become ever more noticeable, and - yes! - they're dancing! Therefore, obviously, they are now in love...
Or: when a sleazebag British copper type, hot on Frankie's tail and ready to kill him at any given moment, informs Tom of his identity in the plummiest of clichéd, Queen's-English/Dick Van Dyke accents: "Harry Sloane, British Intelligence," he intones. "I have been tracking these murderous bastards for two years now..." Hear that creak in your local cinema as 300 people cringe into their seats at the horror of it all.
The big problem with The Devil's Own is that it starts out wanting to be an intelligent and thought-provoking thriller, and loses its bottle when it realises just how complex the issues it raises are. The result (understandably) ends up as over-simplistic, occasionally confusing and more than a little ham-fisted - a film which, although generally well made and exciting, relies far too much on sheer star power to pull you through. "This isn't an American story,"says Pitt at one point. "It's an Irish one."
We beg to differ.
A glossy, sometimes exciting thriller that does well in terms of performances and star power, but loses grip of its subject completely as soon as the bullets stop flying and you're allowed to stop and think for a minute. The Devil's Own works far better as a simple revenge thriller than anything with political strings attached - the film-makers clearly realised they were playing with fire, with the result that they spend most of their time struggling not to get their fingers burned.