Saturday, August 17, 2019

Off Script: The Devil's Advocate

Film: The Devil’s Advocate
Format: DVD from Lasalle Public Library through interlibrary loan on laptop.

I went into The Devil’s Advocate having seen it before, but not really remembering a lot beyond the basic plot and the fact that it starred Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. I had forgotten or never realized that Charlize Theron, Tamara Tunie, Jeffrey Jones, and Craig T. Nelson were in this as well. The plot is one that, upon hearing it, I wondered why it hadn’t been done this fully before, or at least done to this extent. Put simply, a lawyer discovers that the guy he is working for is literally Satan. This is a big reveal at the end of the film, but I honestly don’t feel bad putting that in the opening paragraph here. First of all, the movie is called The Devil’s Advocate, and second, if you don’t realize this pretty quickly, you’re not really paying attention to the movie.

Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a high-priced criminal lawyer currently working a case where a middle school teacher has been accused of sexual abuse of one of his students. While the young girl is on the stand giving testimony, Kevin notices his client more or less jerking off, and in this moment, he realizes that the man he is defending is guilty. He asks for a short recess and retreats to the bathroom, where we learn that this might well be the first case that he ever loses. But no, despite the horror of his client and the clear guilt, Kevin goes back into the courtroom and gets the man cleared of charges. He’s just that good.

While celebrating the win with his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), he is approached by Leamon Heath (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) to come to New York and assist in jury selection for an important case. Since Mary Ann is asked to come along and all expenses are paid, Kevin agrees, and helps select a jury that acquits on a case that seemed unwinnable. For this amazing feat and his perfect track record, Kevin is offered a position by the head of the firm, John Milton (Al Pacino). That comes with a massive salary and a luxurious apartment. Kevin naturally accepts despite the protests of his religiously fundamentalist and Revelation-quoting mother (Judith Ivey).

What follows won’t be a surprise, since you know what’s coming. Kevin finds himself in more and more morally questionable cases and in more and more morally questionable circumstances at the firm. Some of this comes from colleague Christabella Andreoli (Connie Nielsen), and much from Milton himself, who seems to revel in just about every vice possible. Others at the firm, like Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones) seem to resent Kevin’s sudden rise. Trouble is brewing back home, though, since Mary Ann feels completely abandoned by her husband and his new lifestyle. Unable to even decorate the apartment convincingly, she falls in with Diana Barzoon (Pamela Gray) and Jackie Heath (Tamara Tunie), wives of partners at the firm, who live completely indolent lives. This is about the time Mary Ann starts having hallucinations about these women actually being demonic. She also starts having nightmares about her own inability to have a child. Slowly, Mary Ann starts losing her grip on her sanity, and Kevin seems too busy and otherwise involved to do much about it.

But hey, you know where this is going. I said it at the top, and it’s also immediately evident as the film goes through the story. John Milton is literally the devil, and there’s a purpose that he has for Kevin Lomax. I won’t spoil that.

There are a few moments of brilliance in this film, but only a few. One of these comes near the end of the film when John Milton (which is a tremendously funny name for a Satan character) goes on a rant about the qualities of God. There are other moments, like saying to Mary Ann, who complains about issues with her father, that he understands that problem completely. See, that’s funny. That works. And it works primarily because putting Pacino in the role of Satan is great casting. He’s a much more bombastic Satan than often appears on screen, but it’s impossible not to like him in the role.

Not a lot else works for me that well here, though. Keanu Reeves seems like a really nice guy in real life, but when it comes to his movie roles, I almost always wonder why he was cast. Accepting him as a Southern lawyer (with an inconsistent accent) who has a perfect record both as a prosecutor and a defense lawyer is simply harder for me to accept than a character literally being Satan.

This is also far too long. The Devil’s Advocate clocks in at almost 150 minutes, which is at least 30 minutes too much and probably 45. There’s not nearly enough here to warrant this length for a film that is, when you get to the bottom of it, a simple morality tale.

Beyond that, I think the ending is a bit of a cop-out. As audience members, we should expect a little more of our stories than the one we get here. It feels very much like amateur hour in the last 15 minutes. But, for all that, it’s hard to dislike the film entirely. It’s not one I’ll fire up again any time soon, but it has its moments. But really, the best moment from the film can be found on YouTube.

Why to watch The Devil’s Advocate: Pacino as Satan is inspired casting.
Why not to watch: It’s honestly a bigger stretch for me to see Keanu Reeves as an undefeated trial lawyer than for me to accept the reality of Satan.


  1. It's got some flaws as Keanu doesn't quite pull off the Southern accent very well but it did show exactly that there's much more to Charlize Theron than just a pretty face. Pacino of course KILLED it in this film as this was the role he was born to play.

    1. I agree. For all the problems this movie has, it's one of my favorite Pacino performances.

  2. Pacino is ideal and Charlize makes her role more interesting than it should be because of who she is but other than them I thought this was meh and never had the urge to revisit it after that first view.

    1. I think it's worth it for Pacino. His speech toward the end, the "God is an absentee landlord" speech, is worth the price of at least one watch.