In 1972, eight-year old Francis McGuire witnesses his father being gunned down in front of him due to being an Irish republican sympathizer.
By 1992, an adult Francis (Brad Pitt) and three other I.R.A. men are caught up in a firefight in Belfast when members of the British Army try to capture him. One gunman is killed and another, Desmond, is wounded as Frankie and the last gunman, Sean Phelan (Paul Ronan), flee. Hiding out in the countryside, Francis and his friend Martin MacDuf (David O'Hara) see a British Army helicopter circling overhead and decide they need Stinger missiles.
Francis, traveling under the alias "Rory Devaney," is picked up at Newark Airport by IRA sympathizer Judge Peter Fitzsimmons (George Hearn), who has arranged for "Rory" to stay with New York City Police Department Sergeant Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford), his wife, Sheila (Margaret Colin), and their three daughters in Staten Island. The judge gives Francis a handgun. "Rory" befriends Tom during his stay.
Meanwhile, Sean has acquired a large fishing boat, and repairs it with Francis so that they can use it to sail back to Ireland with the missiles. "Rory" meets with black market arms dealer Billy Burke (Treat Williams). Burke agrees to purchase the missiles with his own money, waiting for Francis to pay him on delivery in six to eight weeks. Judge Fitzsimmons has his family's nanny, Megan Doherty (Natascha McElhone) deliver the bag of money he has raised to Francis. During an Irish celebration of the confirmation of one of Tom's daughters, Megan phones Rory to tell him Martin has been killed and to postpone his deal with Burke.
Tom decides to retire from the police force after an incident involving the shooting of a carjacker by his partner, Eddie Diaz (Rubén Blades). When Tom and Sheila arrive home that afternoon, they are attacked by masked intruders. As sirens are heard approaching, Tom persuades them to leave while they still can. Even though his bag of cash is still hidden under the floor in his room, Francis knows that Burke is behind this attack and confronts him. Burke reveals he's kidnapped Sean, ordering Francis to get him the money or his friend will die.
Francis attempts to collect the money at the O´Meara house but Tom has already found it, forcing him to reveal his true identity. Tom and Eddie arrest Francis, but Francis escapes captivity, shooting Eddie in the process.
The FBI and the British authorities question Tom about his association with Francis. Tom refuses to cooperate, aware that the British would kill Francis.
That night, Francis meets Burke in a warehouse, and one of Burke's thugs tosses Sean's severed head at Francis's feet. Francis gives them a bomb-laden bag that explodes when the thug opens it. Francis grabs one of their guns, and kills Burke and his men. He drives off in a van with the missiles, stopping by the Fitzsimmons house to ask Megan to tell his superiors that he is returning with the missiles. He plans to spend the night and leave the next morning.
Tom crashes a cocktail party there to confront the judge. He recognizes Megan from a photo that Sean had taken of Francis and Megan dancing, which he found in Francis's bag. He chases after her, but Frankie escapes. Tom persuades Megan to tell him where Francis is going by promising to protect Francis from being assassinated. Tom finds Francis, just as Francis sails away from the pier, Tom jumps aboard. The two fire on each other, wounding each other respectively. Francis seemingly has the upper hand, but collapses from his wound when he hesitates on shooting Tom. As the two men embrace out of mutual respect, Francis dies. Saddened by Francis death, Tom turns the boat to shore as the sun starts to rise over the ocean.Harrison Ford as Sergeant Tom O'Meara
Brad Pitt as Francis "Frankie" McGuire/Rory Devaney
Margaret Colin as Sheila O'Meara
Rubén Blades as Edwin Diaz
Treat Williams as Billy Burke
George Hearn as Peter Fitzsimmons
Mitchell Ryan as Deputy Chief Jim Kelly
Natascha McElhone as Megan Doherty
Paul Ronan as Sean Phelan
Simon Jones as Harry Sloan
Julia Stiles as Bridget O'Meara
David O'Hara as Martin MacDuf
Ashley Carin as Morgan O'Meara
Kelly Singer as Annie O'Meara
Shane Dunne as Young Frankie
Martin Dunne as Frankie's father
The film's origins date back to 1992, when Pitt, who was not yet well-known, got a script from producer Lawrence Gordon; three years later, Pitt suggested Ford as Tom O'Meara, which at that time was more of a character role. Ford agreed, though that meant the script had to be rewritten to create a fuller role for Ford and a more complicated relationship between the characters played by the two men. It was Ford's suggestion to bring Pakula in as director. Principal photography started in February 1996, with the script "still in flux"; according to The New York Times, "ego clashes, budget overruns and long delays plagued the project." Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen was brought on board to provide rewrites to the script during filming. Pitt "threatened to quit early in the shoot, complaining that the script was incomplete and incoherent" and later "denounced the movie as 'the most irresponsible bit of film making – if you can even call it that – that I've ever seen."
According to Pakula, one problem was that the film's plot did not fall along conventionally simple Hollywood lines: Ford and Pitt were both playing "good guys" according to each of their own distinct moral codes; as The New York Times characterized them "Mr. Ford [is] the upright American cop who deplores violence and Mr. Pitt [is] an I.R.A. gunman for whom violence is a reasonable solution to his people's 300 years of troubles." Pakula compared his intent with the two characters to that depicted in Red River, a 1948 western in which John Wayne's character is defied by his young protégé, played by Montgomery Clift.
The Devil's Own was filmed on location and at the Chelsea Piers studios in New York City, as well as in Newark, Hoboken, Jersey City, Bayonne Sandy Hook and Montclair, New Jersey. and Greenport, New York on Long Island. The opening scenes were filmed at Port Oriel, Clogherhead, County Louth, Republic of Ireland. The Belfast shootout scenes were filmed in Inchicore, Dublin in July 1996. Other location shoots in Ireland were in the Dublin Mountains. Two months before it opened, the film was still unfinished: Pakula was unhappy with the final scene ("a showdown on a boat with a cargo of Stinger missiles"), so in early February the scene was "rewritten and reshot over two days in a studio in California."
The Devil's Own received lukewarm reviews from critics and currently holds a 33% rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 36 reviews and 53/100 based on 26 reviews on Metacritic.
Roger Ebert gave the film 2½ stars out of 4, saying it showed "ignorance of the history of Northern Ireland" and that "the issues involved between the two sides are never mentioned." The review criticised the contrived plot, stating "The moral reasoning in the film is so confusing that only by completely sidestepping it can the plot work at all." Pitt and Ford were praised, Ebert complimenting that the pair "...are enormously appealing and gifted actors, and to the degree that the movie works, it's because of them."
James Berardinelli gave the film (2½ stars out of 4), saying:
"For much of its running length, The Devil's Own
works as a passable thriller. Certain plot elements (including many of the details surrounding the missile deal) border on preposterous, but that often goes with the territory in films of this genre. The best parts of The Devil's Own
are the quiet moments, such as when Frankie and Tom are talking, or when Tom is spending time with his family. There's also an effective subplot that forces Tom to examine his moral outlook on life when his partner (Ruben Blades) accidentally shoots a fleeing suspect in the back. Unfortunately, The Devil's Own
goes downhill fast in the final half-hour. Suddenly, it's as if every significant character in the film has undergone a frontal lobotomy. Otherwise-intelligent men start doing extremely stupid things, and the entire "dumbing-down" process becomes frustrating to observe. The final scenes are solid, but the stuff that leads up to them is a problem."
Janet Maslin called it an "unexpectedly solid thriller" with a "first-rate, madly photogenic performance" by Pitt; she notes that it is "directed by Alan J. Pakula in a thoughtful urban style that recalls the vintage New York stories of Sidney Lumet" and "handsomely photographed by Gordon Willis". Richard Schickel called it "quite a good movie – a character-driven (as opposed to whammy-driven) suspense drama – dark, fatalistic and, within its melodramatically stretched terms, emotionally plausible"; he said Pakula "develops his story patiently, without letting its tensions unravel." Entertainment Weekly gave it a "B+," calling it a "quiet, absorbing, shades-of-gray drama, a kind of thriller meditation on the schism in Northern Ireland."
A reviewer for Salon.com called it "a disjointed, sluggish picture" with a problematic script that "bears the marks of tinkering": "swatches of the story appear to be missing, relationships aren't clearly defined, and characters aren't identified." Variety said "whatever contortions the script went through on its way to the result, Pakula has managed to maintain an admirable concentration on the central moral equation, which posits the Irish terrorist's understandable political and emotional motivations for revenge versus the decent cop's sense of justice and the greater human good."
The film's grossed $140 million, exceeding its $90 million budget, of which $43 million was from North America.
The film was involved in adverse publicity when, two months before her death, Diana, Princess of Wales took 15-year-old Prince William, and 12-year-old Prince Harry, to see the movie. The movie was restricted to movie-goers aged 15 or older, and the Princess persuaded the cinema to let Prince Harry stay despite him being three years underage. She was criticised for flouting the law, for using her influence to persuade the cinema's employees to flout the law, and because of the movie's subject matter (which was said to glamorise the IRA – highly sensitive given that her sons' great-uncle Earl Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA). She later apologised, saying she was unaware of the film's content.