The Devil Has a Name

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
The Devil Has a Name Movie Poster Image
Awkward, mature drama about environmental pollution.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 97 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Though storytelling is flawed, main message is that big corporations get away with doing terrible things. It mentions Net Present Value, which essentially means that if a company makes more money doing something than it costs to get caught doing it, then it makes sense to keep doing it (even if it's wrong). This is a huge flaw in the American system, and the best the movie can do is make us aware of it and show that sometimes the little guy can try to make a stand.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Santiago is an interestingly layered Latinx character. And Gigi is a very strong, canny businesswoman. But most of the characters, even the good ones, have selfish and/or unflattering sides. In one offensive moment, a man pretends to be a stutterer. The same man also makes racist remarks: "taco lovers" and "uppity wetback."

Violence

Character pulls gory animal corpse from toxic water. Guns shown and fired; character shot to death. One character shoves another up against the wall, grabs him by the crotch. Bar fight with punching, bloody face wounds. One character holds a broken bottle to another's throat, drawing a small dot of blood. Two characters fight, wrestling in a playful way. Almond fields set on fire. Car set on fire. Flashback to person dying of cancer.

Sex

A woman straddles a man on his lap. He lifts her blouse partway up (her back is to the camera). A clothed man lies on top of a woman (also clothed), licks his fingers, reaches between her legs. A man's naked bottom is briefly seen on a black-and-white video monitor.

Language

Very strong language includes "f--k," "s--t," "bulls--t," "son of a bitch," "bastard," "ass," "damn," "hell," "suck a d--k," "d--k," "piss," "pr--k," "pecker," "balls," "shut up."

Consumerism

Mentions of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cocaine snorting. Character gulps down glasses of whisky, passes out on the floor. Characters drink at bars and clubs, from flasks. Cigarette smoking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Devil Has a Name is a drama about an almond farmer who's trying to stand up to a big oil company that's poisoned his water. Expect to see a gory animal corpse, guns, a character getting shot to death, fighting, bullying, threats with a broken bottle, and more. One character is a sadistic psychopath, and his very presence suggests violence, especially when he's in scenes with women. Language is very strong, with uses of "f--k," "s--t," and many more. There are a few brief mature sexual situations, and a man's naked bottom is briefly seen. Characters snort cocaine, drink (one to the point of passing out), and smoke cigarettes. Directed by and co-starring Edward James Olmos, the movie has its heart in the right place, and it offers some strong performances, but the story is awkwardly told, and there are many distracting flaws.

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What's the story?

In THE DEVIL HAS A NAME, 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 cruel psychopath Ezekiel (Pablo Schreiber) to do everything from intimidating Fred to committing outright crimes to end the lawsuit.

Is it any good?

This whistleblower drama, with its odd touches of comedy and noir, certainly has its heart in the right place, but the story is frustratingly, awkwardly told, and it ultimately amounts to very little. Directed by Oscar-nominated actor Olmos, The Devil Has a Name has some very strong performances, notably Strathairn as the salt-of-the-earth farmer, Bosworth as the savvy 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. But viewers don't know who she is or what she's 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 tendency to intimidate anyone he's with (even if they work for the same company) make him hard to watch -- or 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 in which she spills coffee on her rug and then obsessively tries to clean it while glugging down glasses of whiskey. By the time The Devil Has a Name ends, there's less of a sense of victory and more one of relief that we don't have to spend time with these people anymore.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about The Devil Has a Name's violence. How did it make you feel? How much of it is directed at women? How much of it is bullying?

  • How are alcohol, drugs, and smoking depicted? Is substance use glamorized? Are there consequences for using? Why does that matter?

  • Why would Net Present Value exist in the world today? Would a company have an incentive to stop doing awful things if the penalty cost more than their profits?

  • Ralph Wegis asks Fred why he wants to sue Shore Oil: Is it for the money, or because it's the right thing to do? What's the difference? Which would you choose, and why?

  • How are Latinx characters represented? Did you notice any stereotypes? How did you feel about the racist language used by the villain?

Movie details

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