The Devil’s Own: Does Brad Pitt’s Frankie McGuire Die at the End?

In the 1997 thriller film, ‘The Devil’s Own,’ Frankie McGuire is depicted as a complex character—an IRA operative seeking to secure stinger missiles for his cause while maintaining an outward persona of normalcy in New York City. His relationship with Tom O’Meara, an Irish-American police officer— and the former’s house host, adds layers to Frankie’s character and fuels the film’s central conflict of moral ambiguity. As Frankie’s secret comes out in the open, it steers the story toward an eventual end, with the two heroes finally standing in each other’s paths. The forthcoming conclusion remains ripe with tension— and anticipation— between the two characters as the entire narrative comes to a standstill. Therefore, with Frankie’s fate lying on the wrong end of Tom’s gun, fans are bound to grow eager about the antiheroic protagonist’s fate. SPOILERS AHEAD!

Frankie’s Tragic Demise

As the climax approaches, Frankie faces a dramatic showdown that seems to seal his fate. After a series of backstabbings, blackmail, raids, and other violent confrontations, Frankie and Tom find themselves in a deadly standoff. Having discovered Frankie’s true identity and mission, Tom feels a deep sense of betrayal, but his duty-bound sense of moral justice eliminates any grudge he may have been holding. This righteousness urges him to save Frankie’s life, even if it means going rogue against the orders of the NYPD and FBI. Frankie, on the other hand, is driven by a combination of desperation and a staunch belief in his cause, which convinces him not to listen to Tom, even though he trusts him and feels indebted for his help—a rare show of affection he has felt in a long time.

Tom and Frankie’s confrontation is followed by a chase between the two. On the verge of success, Frankie manages to escape in the boat—his partner Sean had secured—along with the weapons. Yet, he only finds Tom blocking his path. Determined to bring Frankie back, Tom attempts to disarm him, and amidst a standoff, the two unwittingly shoot each other in self-defense. With a far more severe wound than Tom, who has been shot in his hand and can steer the boat back to shore, Frankie closes his eyes and—as the original screenplay explicitly mentions—dies. The next shot of Tom embracing Frankie brings the film full circle as their special moment resembles that of a father holding his son. Though his objective may not have been accomplished, Frankie may reunite with his father once again in the afterlife, redeeming his old self before revenge and trauma blinded him.

The ending stays truthful to Frankie’s repeated reminder to Tom that this is, in fact, an Irish story, not an American one, teasing the character was never meant to have a happy ending. This foreshadowing emphasizes the cultural and political conflicts central to Frankie’s character and mission. Nevertheless, as the film concludes with the death of one of its central characters, it leaves room for fans to ponder the broader implications of Frankie’s fate, bringing into question the filmmakers’ daunting task of balancing the story’s handling of historical, moral, and narrative complexities.

What If Frankie Had Survived? Why Did He Not?

Amidst the aftermath of Frankie’s tragic collapse, there exists an audience group that prefers a little state of ambiguity regarding his ultimate fate. The film shows Frankie lying motionless, bleeding out from his wounds. While it strongly suggests that he is fatally injured, the finality of his death still offers room for interpretation. The production of ‘The Devil’s Own’ faced notorious delays, conflicts, and revisions. Given that the screenplay was written and rewritten by multiple screenwriters, and Pitt expressed dissatisfaction with the script on several occasions, it’s reasonable to assume that Frankie’s fate might have changed through various drafts. Director Alan J. Pakula also seemed unhappy with the ending, managing to bring the cast and crew back together for reshoots just two months before the release. Some viewers prefer crediting the dramatic script alterations for the ambiguity they might feel when the credits roll, suggesting that Frankie’s death might not be as clear-cut as depicted.

Viewers, uncertain about Frankie’s death from the brief scene, unaware of the explicit mention of death in the script, and those rooting for Ford’s textbook American hero to prevent more deaths like he promised to make a valid case regarding his fate. If such alternate scenarios were true—Frankie was indeed rescued—the movie would have to undergo significant changes, especially regarding the stakes in his mission. Having lost his father and his IRA comrades, death might seem more acceptable to Frankie than living with the failure to liberate his country. Even if Sergeant Tom could have saved his life, brought him back to the city, and driven him to a hospital despite his own injuries, it would still prove beyond his gritty efforts to save the Irishman’s life. The odds in favor of Tom successfully convincing the Federal agents of the United States and the United Kingdom not to detain Frankie were negligible, even by any highly fictionalized film’s account.

A sworn enemy of the British army, Frankie would be sent back to Northern Ireland, where he would likely be tried for treason, which, until 1998, was a capital offense. In conclusion, Frankie’s death also seems to be providing a merciful—and necessary—resolution to the violence and betrayal that followed him most of his life. There isn’t much room left for him to seek redemption after devoting himself to the hardest battles of patriotism. Nevertheless, the speculations surrounding the uncertainty of his death provide additional layers to the film, allowing it to become more than another action-thriller entry in Hollywood. On the other hand, Frankie McGuire’s true ending turns ‘The Devil’s Own’ into a successful affair to highlight the themes of loyalty, sacrifice, and the human cost of political conflict.

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