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The Blarney Stoned

The Devil's Own
Ken Regan/Camera 5

Stick Figures: Harrison Ford lusts after Brad Pitt's sweater during a game of pool in a languorous moment in "The Devil's Own."

Accent held higher than his hair, Brad Pitt gets serious in father-son thriller with Harrison Ford

By Richard von Busack

BRAD PITT is trying to be very serious indeed in The Devil's Own. Dialect coach Brendan Dunn taught Pitt the Belfast gargle of authentic incoherence, and when Pitt glottally tells Harrison Ford how the British killed his "da" (father), expect confused viewers to ask themselves, "They killed his dog?" The hair that was his greatest asset as an actor is clipped and kept unwashed to make Pitt look authentically poor. Even so, Pitt's hostess-twinkie-mofoness shines through--no, it is not dimmed--in the scenes in which Pitt tries out his acting ability. Like the equally talented Madonna in Evita, Pitt is really given some time to act. Pitt fanciers are especially directed to the moment, during the confirmation of a little Catholic girl, when he sorrows for his deeds. The movie star radiates contrition like a puppy on a calendar.

Pitt plays Frankie the Angel, a noted IRA terrorist; gone to America to hide, he's taken care of by a judge who sympathizes with the Cause. The judge drops him off at the suburban home of Ford's Tom O'Meara, a policeman with three daughters and a wife (Margaret Colin), whose first line is "I'm the mom." As a favor to the judge, O'Meara puts up Frankie, a.k.a. Rory, thinking him a harmless laborer. But Frankie has a mission. He's going to buy some Stinger missiles from Irish bar owner and arms dealer Billy Burke (Treat Williams). When Frankie must stall, Williams gets angry and sends some of his thugs to O'Meara's house to rough him up. Then, sigh, it's payback time as O'Meara and Frankie square off--after some indescribably clumsy scenes of the two bonding, since O'Meara has no sons, and Frankie's da was, as we know, killed.

Gordon Willis' reliable photography adds some tone to the visuals, but the narrative isn't even as simple as black and white--it's more like white and off-white. The film is a major bore, and it doesn't make a lick of sense. It's not even organized in a way to suggest possibilities of making sense. Director Alan J. Pakula dilutes any possible tension with inane scenes meant to plump up Pitt's screen time. Ford's well-worn persona wears well some more, despite being eroded by lines like "We're in the police business, not in the revenge business."

The Devil's Own is so thoroughly on O'Meara's side that there's no conflict--it's obvious, for the sake of all of those cute, redheaded daughters, that dad has to live. There are so many excuses for Frankie that at the final confrontation the characters all but apologize to the audience for the necessity of the gunfight. The Devil's Own is meant to have the impact of surrogate father against surrogate son; it's been so softened to make Pitt's character sweet that the movie has all of the impact of being hit with a pillow.

The Devil's Own (R; 107 min.), directed by Alan J. Pakula, written by David Aaron Cohen, Vincent Patrick and Kevin Jarre, photo-graphed by Gordon Willis and starring Brad Pitt and Harrison Ford.

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From the April 3-9, 1997 issue of Metro

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