Think The Firm meets Rosemary’s Baby, and you have the 1997 legal/supernatural thriller The Devil’s Advocate, a bizarre genre mash-up with an impressive and talented cast including Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, and Charlize Theron. The film is an interesting exercise in genre-bending, and, despite an overlong runtime and some dodgy accents, it still pretty much works.
Keanu Reeves is Kevin Lomax, an on-the-way-up lawyer from small-town Florida, making his way to the big city. And he’s no glamorized lawyer; this is one of the few films that analyzes the ugly side of law practice: defending guilty clients. Definitely a necessity (everyone deserves the right to a fair trial, after all), but certainly an unpleasantry. Lomax can’t lose—the film opens with him successfully defending a child molester by berating his victim into the testimony he needs. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen!
Charlize Theron is Lomax’s wife, Mary Ann. She’s just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She’s by far the superior actor in the Lomax couple, more naturally portrayed and far, far more consistent with the accent. Much like Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby, Theron carries much of the dramatic heft of the film. However, unlike in Rosemary’s Baby, this character is not the film’s protagonist, and, while a central character, is removed from the plot with considerable time left for spoilerific reasons. But for the time she remains onscreen, she is excellent, by far the best part of the film.
This is not to suggest that Reeves is a poor performer, he has limited range, but works well within that range, and The Devil’s Advocate, while an atypical role for him, still manages to be one of his best performances. Sure, the accent’s shoddy, but he’s charming, he’s believable, he’s passable.
The real highlight of the film is Al Pacino as John Milton. Minor spoiler, he’s Satan himself. That’s right, Al Pacino is literally Satan in this movie, and it’s as glorious as you’d think it would be. He’s over-the-top in the best way, a real scene-stealing scenery chewer with some of the most bizarrely quotable lines of his career.
” Freedom, baby… is never having to say you’re sorry.”
“Guilt is like a bag of fuckin’ bricks. All ya gotta do is set it down.”
“The worst vice is advice.”
Strange stuff. The real Satan stuff is reserved for the last 30-40 minutes of the movie, with hints laid out beforehand in small doses. But Pacino’s great the whole way through.
The Devil’s Advocate’s main problems come in its slow pacing, it takes a long time to get through. It’s 150 minutes and feels it as well. It’s quite on-the-nose with its themes, and it has a forced happy ending with a nonsensical triple twist (quadruple if you count the Satan reveal as a twist).
The ending of the film is what really derails the whole picture. *SPOILER ALERT*
Kevin learns that he’s the Antichrist, considers the offer, shoots himself in the head, Satan’s defeated, and Kevin wakes back up in the opening courtroom scene, which undoes the point of the self-sacrifice. He just got a do-over. Oooh, but it turns out that Satan’s still present in his life, or something. It’s dumb, and would work better dramatically if it ended with the suicide, instead of a typical Hollywood happy ending.
An entertaining if slightly silly thriller with great performances and somewhat ridiculous twists, The Devil’s Advocate remains a half-remembered note in its stars’ and director’s career, earning a B.