Review: Disjointed 'The Devil Has a Name' sours its message
Courtesy of Momentum Pictures
Director Edward James Olmos is taking some cues from the “Dark Waters,” “Erin Brockovich,” and “Spotlight” THEY KNEW! Playbook. But in the disjointed “The Devil Has a Name,” a usually reliable premise about the little man taking on big corporations gets lost amid a Lifetime movie presentation.
We all know that corporate greed screws the average citizen out of their due, and these rousing “Based on a true story” flicks are good for bringing light to its subject matter and starting good conversation. Yet “The Devil Has a Name” tries to have the best of both worlds: a courtroom drama about the ethics of oil drilling and an investigative journalist piece confirming what we already knew about big corps.
In this case, Fred (David Statherian) who owns and operates his own farm in California, has stumbled upon a shocking revelation: the groundwater which feeds his cattle was contaminated for 10 years after he was coerced into a deal with an oil company headed by Kate Bosworth and Haley Joel Osment. The details of which are presented through a lazy framing device, where Bosworth reveals to the company’s board of directors – led by Alfred Molina whose character’s name is literally “The Boss” – how it all went wrong.
Screenwriter Robert McEveety bounces all over the place, never locking down a unified vision of the narrative. Obviously, the film wants us to sympathize with farmers being taken advantage of but then spends ample time with slimy Pablo Schreiber who shows up with a speech impediment to then reveal he’s the muscle hired to talk Fred out of the impending court case. Meanwhile, Bosworth and Osment do little to save face, and they’re several important events tossed aside, like the burning of crops and the passing of Fred’s wife due to cancer.
The courtroom drama aspect is clunky to put it mildly, throwing Martin Sheen on the roster as a last second Hail Mary to add pedigree to the film playing Fred‘s attorney, but the stagey school play aesthetic sours the surprisingly committed performances. Olmos shoots the film competently and adds his acting chops as Fred’s trusty and loyal sidekick, rounding out a decent ensemble who can’t elevate the half-baked message it’s trying to preach.
THE DEVIL HAS A NAME will be available on digital/VOD Friday October 16th