The Devil's Advocate

08/05/2019 06:29

Film: The Devil’s Advocate

Year: 1997

Director: Taylor Hackford

Writer: Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron



This was a film that I remember when it came out, but I didn’t see it for some time afterwards. I did see it in high school with some friends, I believe after I saw Scarface where I fell in love with Al Pacino and his acting abilities. I know that I saw it again in college, but it really wasn’t until this viewing when I watched it a critical eye can I fully appreciate it. The synopsis is an exceptionally adept Florida lawyer is offered a job at a high-end New York City law firm with a high-end boss, the biggest opportunity of his career to date.

We start in a courtroom. Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is the defense attorney for Lloyd Gettys (Chris Bauer). He’s a high school teacher who is accused of molestation by a student. The student’s testimony is pretty damning and Kevin looks at his client while she is testifying. He knows that everything she is saying is true. When the witness is turned over to him, he needs a short recess. It is in the bathroom that he speaks with Larry (Neal Jones), a reporter, who asks him for a quote as he is about to lose his first case. Kevin comes back into the courtroom and puts reasonable doubt in the jury by calling into question the motives of the student. Gettys goes free.

At a local bar, Kevin celebrates with his wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron). On his way to the bathroom Kevin is approached by Leamon Heath (Ruben Santiago-Hudson), who offers him a job with the law firm he works for in New York. He accepts and he tells his mother, Alice (Judity Ivey) before he goes. He doesn’t want him to New York, calling it the new Babylon and we see that she doesn’t care for Mary Ann either. The job is to pick a jury for a case up there. It ends up working out, even though the attorney who is in charge of the case disagrees.

This gets Kevin a meeting with the head of the firm, John Milton (Pacino). It turns out to be a negotiation as Milton wants to start a criminal division. Kevin and Mary Ann are moved into the swanky apartment building that Heath, his wife and Milton all live in as well. When Kevin is introduced to the firm, Christabella Androli (Connie Nielsen) catches his eye. The first case that he is given involves Phillipe Moyez (Delroy Lindo). Kevin dives into this and starts to neglect his wife. Mary Ann falls into depression as she loses her husband over to his work. She also has doubts to if that is what he is burying himself into.

When Alice comes to visit and catches a glimpse of Milton, she is uncomfortable and doesn’t want to stay in New York. Milton catches on to this and goads her a bit. Kevin doesn’t seem to notice though. It all takes a turn though when major client of the firm, Alexander Cullen (Craig T. Nelson) is accused of killing his wife, stepson and maid. Kevin is given the case much to the displeasure of Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones). This takes up even more of Kevin’s time as his wife descends into madness and starts to think that those around her aren’t as they seem.

Now I wanted to recap as much of this film as I could without going too much into spoilers. Coming into this most recent viewing, I knew some of the reveals, but to be honest, there were some that I didn’t remember either. This film actually ticks a lot of things that I’ve come to loving in films, especially the perversion of religion. I don’t know if I had read ‘Paradise Lost’ or not at the time of my last viewing, but I love that nod for those that know what that epic poem is about.

The title of this film is something that is really a great allegory and foreshadowing for the film. I personally tend to be the Devil’s Advocate when I’m arguing with friends, because personally I like to ensure that both sides of a topic are explored to fully understand it. Kevin though is also technically doing the devil’s work by getting those he is defending off with reasonable doubt. Kevin is a scumbag, but then again, he’s doing what he’s tasked with. This becomes a moral debate for defense attorneys, do you protect your client, even if you know they’re guilty or do you do what you think is right? This again comes up when he’s defending Cullen.

What I also love about this film is exploring the seven deadly sins. It is interesting that earlier in the decade; we had Se7en, where the killer is using these for his grand plan. Here we are seeing Kevin and the other lawyers in the firm living out their fantasies as well as committing these. Kevin is a victim to vanity, which he wants to win and he wants the glory. He is also prideful, he experiences lust for Christabella as well as greed. Milton at times gives him the option to give up what he is doing, but Kevin exercises his free will to continue on what he’s doing. I just really love this, tying it back in with my previous point of the use of religion.

Now there is the issue with this film, which happened a lot in the decade, of whether this is a horror film. If you know me, I will try to claim as many as I can for my genre, which again, I do think this is horror. We have metaphorically and literally in the film the devil. We have those that are committing heinous crimes and getting away with them. On top of that, we have that lawyers could be doing the devil’s work by allowing criminals to get away with it, which could be the devil’s plan. Rick Baker did effects in this film to make demons be represented as well. We don’t know if this is something that the people are hallucinating, but that also brings up the horror concept of the descent into madness.

Which brings me to the pacing of the film, where I never really found myself bored, but the film is quite long. It runs two hours and twenty minutes if you didn’t want to look up what it was. It would be hard to cut things from this film though, as we have to see Kevin’s fall from grace in his pursuit of his career, equally seeing his wife descend into madness as she is corrupted as well. I will admit, I forgot how it ended, but there is a quick little thing at the end that I did like. It really did recover for me there.

I want to move next to the acting of the film, which I think is good for the most part. I hate to do this, as he is such a good guy but I don’t like Reeves in the starring role of the film. He does give off the arrogance necessary for the lawyer aspect. He doesn’t give me the emotions that I need though. I can see in the end why he was chosen, but I just feel there could have been someone better in my humble opinion. Pacino is great though. I love the character he portrays and everything he does. He is great at disarming and then convincing them to commit the acts they do. Theron is also great and gorgeous in this film. We do see her nude, which wasn’t bad either. Nielsen was solid in her role as well. I want to give shout-outs to Ivey, Nelson and the rest of the cast. They definitely rounded out the film for what was needed. It was crazy to see a young Monica Keena as well here. I had to look it up and confirm by checking out those scenes again.

That moves me next to the effects of the film. I do think that some of it was CGI, but where that was used it was fine. It really is small effect and some of it being that faces distort. I think the look of the demons was good and seeing that Baker did them, I’m not surprised in the least bit. The film is also shot very well.

Now with that said, I forgot how much I really like this film. Seeing it this time with a critical eye, this film does things I really enjoy in films. The perversion of religion is something that makes me enjoy films even more if I’m honest. I like how this is presented in seeing a character ruin themselves with the choices they make and the descent into madness of those around them. The acting really helps bring this to life, even though I don’t feel that Reeves fits. The film is a bit long, but it is hard to find things to cut out though. It doesn’t get boring and the ending works. The soundtrack of the film didn’t really stand out to me, but it also never took me out of the movie so I have no issues there. Some might argue this isn’t horror, but I can contend that it is. Overall I think this is a really good film and would recommend this for horror and non-horror fans alike with its message.


My Rating: 9.5 out of 10