The Devil’s Own: Why Was Frankie’s Father Killed?

Director Alan J. Pakula’s 1997 thriller film, ‘The Devil’s Own,’ opens with a cold murder sequence in 1972, Northern Ireland. After heading out on a fishing expedition together, eight-year-old Frankie McGuire and his father return home with their arms laden with the day’s catch. Unbeknownst to Frankie’s family, their dinner abruptly ends when a masked assailant enters through the front door of the McGuire household and guns down Frankie’s father right in front of his children and wife. Consequently, witnessing his gruesome act of cold-blooded murder ends up shaping a notable aspect of Frankie’s character, remaining a consistent influence over his future choices. As such, considering the storyline’s impact, one naturally wonders about the reason behind such a heinous crime.

Frankie’s Father’s Death is Rooted in Northern Ireland Conflicts

The politically charged murder of Frankie’s father was a consequence of the conflicts raging at the time in Northern Ireland. As the scene took place in 1972, this would be during the time of “The Troubles,” a thirty-year-long period of violence, conflict, and political deadlock. The conflict raged from the late 1960s to 1998 across the six northeastern counties of Ireland within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Hamstrung by this internal war between factions, people’s lives were embroiled in instability and chaos as armed battles broke out and claimed civilian lives, Frankie’s father being one of them.

At the heart of this division laid people’s desires for the future of Northern Ireland and its place among the British Isles. This is where political inclinations became a major part of driving the conflict. As Frankie’s father was revealed to be a republican sympathizer, this made him part of the Northern Ireland Nationalists and Republicans. The Irish Nationalists, who were also largely Catholic, wished for the unification of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. On the other side of the divide were the Protestant Unionists or Loyalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. This political wedge had driven a stake through the country’s heart.

However, another overriding aspect of “The Troubles” was the rise of paramilitary groups on both sides of the conflict. The IRA, or the Provisional Irish Republican Army, which features heavily in ‘The Devil’s Own,’ were born to fight for the Nationalist and Republican side of the ongoing chaos. Fueled by increasing violence in the conflict, the loyalists and unionists had their own forms of paramilitary groups to carry out their deeds. Groups like the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) were created to mete out attacks on specific Catholic or Republican-sympathizing individuals. The vice versa was happening on the other side.

Thus, it’s likely that Frankie’s father, who was an unassuming fisherman living out near the coast with his family but held Republican and Nationalist beliefs of unification, was targeted by members of the Loyalists groups and murdered in cold blood. It sets up a brutal introduction to the long-standing conflict between the two political groups in Northern Ireland. The death of his father also becomes a driving force in Frankie’s life. As he witnesses it at a very tender and impressionable age, he likely uses it as a source of motivation for the trauma he had to endure at the hands of an unnamed and masked assailant.

Near the end of the film, as Frankie lies dying after being shot by Tom, he espouses his father’s origins as a fisherman while he bleeds to death. This moment reinforces how deeply Frankie has internalized the loss of his father and the murder he witnessed when he was just eight. This traumatic event likely pushed him to join the IRA and continue his father’s legacy by embracing Republican sympathies. He wanted to serve in the IRA ranks to ensure his father’s death was not in vain. Frankie’s commander rank within the group indicates his single-minded nature, and the impact of his father’s murder is reflected in his resolve and determination.

While it can seem like a cold, unemotional, and immediate death, the opening of the film sets up the rest of the ensuing events like a row of dominoes falling over one another in quick succession. Even though the story spends most of its time in New York City, it delves into the political baggage that has ensnared Northern Ireland to provide narrative context. Therefore, through its characters, the audience gets a glimpse into the struggle, battles, and sacrifices carried out by the survivors and those willing to fight. ‘The Devil’s Own’ holds back on providing a deep historical context for the events surrounding the Northern Ireland conflicts. Still, it was this complicated and messy era of political and social unrest that led to the death of Frankie’s father.

Read more: Is Frankie McGuire Based on a Real IRA member?