Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Strathairn, Edward James Olmos, Kate Bosworth, Pablo Schreiber, Haley Joel Osment, Alfred Molina, Martin Sheen
Written by: Robert McEveety
Directed by: Edward James Olmos
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual material and drug use, and brief violence
Running Time: 97
Date: 10/16/2020

The Devil Has a Name (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Stake Oil

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The whistleblower drama The Devil Has a Name, with odd touches of comedy and noir, certainly has its heart in the right place, but the story is frustratingly, awkwardly told and it ultimately comes down to very little.

Almond farmer Fred Stern (David Strathairn) discovers that his water has been poisoned after years of toxic waste dumping by the Shore Oil company. Shore regional director Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth) recruits Alex Gardner (Haley Joel Osment), once a trusted employee of Fred's, to buy Fred's farm for next to nothing. Instead, Fred and his right-hand man Santiago (Edward James Olmos) go to environmental lawyer Ralph Wegis (Martin Sheen) to try to sue Shore for $2 billion. Unfortunately, Shore hires the cruel psychopath Ezekiel (Pablo Schreiber) to do everything from intimidating Fred to committing outright crimes to end the lawsuit.

Directed by Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos, The Devil Has a Name unsurprisingly has some very strong performances, notably Strathairn as the salt-of-the-earth farmer, Bosworth as the headstrong company woman, Sheen as the lovable liberal lawyer, and Olmos himself as the anarchic, selfie-snapping foreman. But some of the characters are introduced quite confusingly. Bosworth walks into a building and inspires shock and hatred from the people around her. (We don't know who she is or what has she done. Do we side with her or is she a villain?).

And supposed good guy Strathairn is shown hitting golf balls in his orchard and injuring people with them. Then there's Schreiber as the psychopath, whose absolute cruelty, and his tendency to intimidate anyone he's with (even if they work for the same company), makes him hard to watch, or to believe. The great Alfred Molina shows up in two scenes as the "Big Boss," for no apparent reason.

Moreover, Bosworth has a baffling, frustrating scene where she spills coffee on her rug, and then obsessively tries to clean it while glugging down glasses of whisky. By the time The Devil Has a Name ends, there's less of a sense of victory and more of a relief that we don't have to spend time with these people anymore.

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