THE DEVIL'S OWN Starring Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt. Directed by Alan J Pakula. Category 2B. Now showing at Broadway (Mongkok, Kowloon Bay, Kornhill, Kwai Fong, Tsuen Wan, Yuen Long), Silvercord, Windsor, UA (Sha Tin, Times Square, Whampoa, Queensway), Astor, Chinachem, Empress, Ma On Shan Classics, Park. Despite its troubled production history, Alan J Pakula's The Devil's Own has ended up an effective thriller. In addition to coming in millions over budget, the movie went through five rewrites, the last writer reportedly having to check every page of the script with the two stars - each was concerned about the other stealing the limelight. While these shenanigans have led to shifts in the film's tone and pace, Pakula's firm hand has ensured the story is coherent enough to hold the viewer's interest. The Devil's Own touches on America's involvement in the Irish Republican Army's (IRA) fight against the British and loyalist Protestants in Northern Ireland. Brad Pitt, steely and sharp, plays Frankie McGuire, a tough IRA terrorist who travels to New York to buy guns. With the aid of a powerful pro-IRA public figure, McGuire slips into the United States and into the home of good Irish cop Tom O'Meara (Harrison Ford), where he stashes his loot and negotiates for the goods. O'Meara himself has no IRA links, and does not know his new lodger is a terrorist. What he does know is his right from wrong - a keener sense of justice is hard to find. As the deal starts to go awry, McGuire's troubles spill over into the O'Meara family, and the cop decides he must try to bring the terrorist to trial. The drama results from the fact that both are convinced they are in the right: O'Meara abhors violence and says the guns will lead to more misery, while McGuire champions violence as a just cause. British viewers will doubtless find Pakula's version of the IRA at odds with their own. Although politics is kept very much in the background - it is the two men's relationship that is under the microscope here - there are still enough opportunities for O'Meara to sympathise with his quarry. Despite hating violence, O'Meara excuses McGuire, who is wanted for killing both soldiers and civilians, by admitting he might have turned out the same 'if I'd been through what you'd been through'. In fact, one feels Pakula has tried hard to deliver a film that is fair to the IRA cause, although he shrinks away from spelling out what the cause actually is and what it results from. A little more background on the Irish troubles would have certainly boosted the political credibility of the film, and helped us to understand Pitt's character. Instead, Pakula prefers to present the whole thing as an extended revenge drama rather than a political story. The opening scenes show a young McGuire watch his father gunned down in a sectarian killing in Belfast. This is repeatedly used to illustrate his motivation, and the film suffers as a result - everything else, including Pitt's performance, points to the fact McGuire is a political animal with an agenda rather than a vengeful son. Still, if detailed political background is missing from The Devil's Own, there is more than enough detailed characterisation to compensate. At least two lengthy sections are spent establishing Ford as a cop with a conscience. This approach reminds of US films of the early 1970s, when film-makers focused on character over action. Pakula, of course, directed Klute (1971) and All The President's Men (1976), and The Devil's Own often allows the story to unfold through similar intelligent dialogue between the characters. But, as it is a big 90s production, the producers have seen to it that this quieter style is punctuated with jarring action sequences, including an over-the-top shootout on the streets of Belfast. One of the more enjoyable aspects is the gritty, realistic feel that underlies the first two thirds of the film, following the initial action sequence. Again, though, this is dissipated by the finale, which is played out as a predictable hit-and-run chase scene. O'Meara, too, progressively becomes too nice, moving from a believably concerned policeman to a fearless, comic-book champion of justice. But, despite The Devil's Own 's inconsistencies, Pakula manages to hold the whole thing together. Although the action scenes jar, the characters maintain strong personalities throughout. And thankfully Pakula stokes things up just enough in the first two thirds to propel us through a weaker final act.