Mixing comedy and drama while making a political point is a difficult problem to solve. Even though people like Adam McKay and Aaron Sorkin are good at making you angry and laughing in equal measure, there are always people who will blame them for this approach. Plus, there are tons of storytellers who just can’t be successful. Sadly, actor and director Edward James Olmos, along with his writer Robert McEveety, are the latest to join the latter group, with the movie The Devil Has a Name. Despite lofty ambitions and a solid cast, he’s a failure.
The film is a dramatic comedy, pitting an oil company against a farmer, with very diverse consequences. When Gigi (Kate Bosworth) is pulled past her bosses (Alfred Molina, among them) to find out what happened, she tells the story of a battle with Fred Stern (David Strathairn). The company had originally planned to buy parts of Fred’s land, which he was open to, despite the objections of his friend and employee Santiago (Olmos), until he found out they also poisoned his land. Rebuffing their advances via lowlife Alex (Haley Joel Osment), he expresses his rage, before going to seek a lawyer. Enlisting Ralph (Martin Sheen), the lawyer who killed the Pinto, Fred sues the oil giant, opposed to Olive (Katie Aselton). Around the same time, a dark figure (Pablo Schreiber) appears and begins to make life very difficult for Fred. How it all goes and how Gigi is involved, I’ll let you find out, if you like. The aforementioned Olmos directs a screenplay by McEveety, with a photograph by Reynaldo Villalobos, as well as a score by Ariel Marx and Mark Tschanz. Supporting players include Kathleen Quinlan, among others.
What plunges this film is that no one seems to have clear motivations. Edward James Olmos has better luck with the comedy elements between Fred and Santiago than with any of the satirical or dramatic elements. Olmos and Strathairn have strong chemistry, making their smaller, quieter moments work together. The rest? It lacks oomph and seems far too haphazard and haphazard to leave a mark. You can end the movie angry with the big business, and the big oil companies in particular, but not with a clear idea of what to do about it. The message, like other elements of the film, is too confusing to be conveyed successfully.
The Devil Has a Name is well-meaning and above all entertaining, so it’s not a huge dud. There are great performances from Edward James Olmos himself, Martin Sheen and especially David Strathairn, but Kate Bosworth, despite a bit of flair, is underwhelming, mainly because of the script. Olmos is a decent director, but scribe Robert McEveety never brings it all together. At first you wonder how they are going to connect everything. Halfway through, when you realize that it’s just going to be the random machinations they choose, your interest wanes, leaving the climax much more toothless than you expected. It’s a shame too, because this one definitely had potential.
Now playing, The Devil Has a Name is a flawed attempt at a satirical dramatic comedy. We thank those involved for trying it out, but the execution just isn’t there. Honestly, you could do a lot worse than this, but with so many better options (only today you can watch Sorkin’s very superior The Trial of the Chicago 7), it’s impossible to give this one a recommendation. this.
The Devil Has A Name is available now.
(Photos courtesy of Momentum Pictures)