REVIEW: The Devil Has a Name (2020)
Everyone loves seeing the little man take on a tyrannical company, but not in a film as convoluted and cumbersome as The Devil Has A Name. A fairly decent cast flit in and out of a story based on the true events of a lone farmer close to ruin who takes on an almighty oil business, causing a stir for those on both sides of the cliched courtroom. Our little man in this picture is the easily charming David Straitharn, who, after rejecting an offer from the enemy, deduces that there’s more to it than the price tag of $50,000. Digging deeper in the literal sense, he deduces that the oil company are responsible for not only his crops going iffy, but potentially also the catalyst for his wife’s cancer, who passed two years earlier.
With nothing to lose and justice to gain, farmer Fred Stern (David Straitharn) asks for the help of local lawyer Ralph Wegis (Martin Sheen) to stick it to the man and his many despicable cohorts. Varying from viperous businesswoman, Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth), to ferocious fixer Ezekiel, who are the two main players bent on getting what they want and keeping their company’s hands clean instead of as dirty as the oil they’re invested in.
Directed by Edward James Olmos, who also stars in the film as Straitharn’s farming work mate and outspoken ally, there’s clearly an energy The Devil Has A Name is trying to tap in to but can’t dig deep enough. Soaked in a sepia lens from the off (this is Texas of course, it’s practically a requirement to be piss-soaked yellow as is filmic tradition), Robert McEveety’s script is aiming to fire on the same cylinders as a Soderbergh picture, with comparisons to Erin Brokovich being inevitable, along with Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters. Crooked business folk collide with the everyman and it’s something that all involved are more than capable of, but there’s a point where The Devil Has A Name begins to lean into the farcical and borderline melodramatic in its effort to tell a serious story.
There are simply too many players on the board and some getting more screen time than they’re due. Haley Joel Osment acting as middle man turned traitor to both sides is a baffling inclusion that wears out its welcome very fast, and Pablo Schreiber is unquestionably intimidating as the towering and cold-blooded fixer that chills a scene, but he snakes in and out of so many scenes you wonder if he really needs to be in them. If he’s not putting the fear into Osment, he’s walking in on Kate Bosworth’s Cutler falling down hard soaked in whiskey and shame, like a devil in a HAZMAT suit. There’s simply too many confrontations between characters and not enough time to let the friction fizz to make it enjoyable. This is a story about sticking it to the powers-that-be, but there’s so many players, the attention is stretched to the seams, leaving it to key members of this drama to deliver the goods.
Straitharn, Sheen and Olmos are without a doubt the most redeeming factors in the latter’s film. Seeing these three in a scene together makes for a great watch no matter how big or small. Olmos nails cantankerous drinking buddy to Straitharn’s forlorn farmer brilliantly, chuntering at his Twitter feed and indirectly seething at the current political power. He’s the physical form of Straitharn’s reserved rage, balanced out by Sheen coming to their aid as the seasoned lawyer with a level head. It makes you wish that this film had focused on them and no one else, because in a script that can’t sit still, it’s a glaring sign that The Devil Has A Name is at its best when it’s slowing down to let these three legends in their own right work at their own pace.
But such is the struggle to make a balancing act as both actor and director, and it’s clear that Olmos is more than capable. He’s got a statement he wants to make and a number of issues he wants to cover, but The Devil Has A Name simply can’t manage it, ultimately being sucked down into an oily well of uneven misfires.
The Devil Has a Name is available on VOD now.