By Liz Lopez

Rating: B+

The Devil Has a Name” is a fictionalized drama of true events in California. News in recent years have shed light on the practice of oil companies dumping toxic wastewater into vital waterways and director and Oscar-nominated actor Edward James Olmos’ latest feature the Central Valley’s water contamination, based on a screenplay by Robert McEveety. The script is not the strongest at times when it veers away from keeping the focus on the villains, namely the corporations and the government, and the drama in some scenes appears a bit melodramatic. These may not appeal to all film fans, but one definite strong point is the cast and the how they make the most of their characters. The mood lightens up when they are on screen and indeed seem like a real friendship exists. Three to highlight are David Strathairn as Fred Stern, the farmer with the poisoned land, Edward James Olmos as Santiago, Fred’s farm manager and confidant for over three decades and Martin Sheen as Ralph Wegis, the environmental lawyer who takes Fred’s case to fight the oil company. There is no doubt these veteran actors with significant roles in many films throughout their careers will be a primary reason film fans select this as a production worth viewing.

The recently widowed farmer is approached by Alex Gardner (Haley Joel Osment), a representative of a Houston oil company who makes a minimal offer for his land. Stern is going to consider it, but Santiago (Olmos) is suspicious of the company and is firmly believes the land is worth much more than the offer made. They soon discover evidence of environmental pollution on his farm. Fred hires Wegis (Sheen) to hold the oil company legally accountable.

Pablo Schreiber’s character, Ezekiel, is a villain sent by the oil company to “fix” the situation with Stern. Ezekiel takes it to an extreme as he intimidates the oil company’s staff too, Alex (Osment) and manager, Gigi Cutler (Kate Bosworth). When Gigi does not have “control of the situation” as CEO Big Boss (Alfred Molina) wants, Gigi tends to go downhill emotionally. This part of the script comes across as excessive with repeat scenes of her actions in her apartment, appearing as another hysterical, emotional woman.   

Olmos’ Santiago, originally from Mexico, has a deep commitment to Fred and the land after spending 30 years of his life on it. Of note in this film, Santiago is fully bilingual, speaking English and Spanish with everyone. This is very common in California and Texas, so it is refreshing to see a character that represents this segment of the population, whether born in the USA or otherwise. Thus, an interesting point to this is that there are no sub-titles to any Spanish words that Olmos’ character speaks. The role is one that Olmos keeps the character vibrant and interesting, no matter if he sprinkles the Spanish within his daily activities. All the supporting staff provided a good solid performance for their respective roles.

The film’s world premiere was at the 2019 Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, which Olmos co-founded over 2 decades ago. The 97 minute – long film is to be released in select US theaters on October 16, 2020, as well as through video on demand, and on digital platforms. View it soon!

Distributed by: Momentum Pictures

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