The Devil's Advocate Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

Whoa! What a rush!

"The Devil's Advocate", a Taylor Hackford film that pairs the unlikely combination of Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, is definitely one film that you cannot judge from its trailer. Instead of the typical Hollywood high-concept picture based on the premise of 'what if your boss was the Devil?' with plenty of sex and violence, what you get is an intriguing character study, a morality play, and an exposition on the nature of evil and human frailty, with plenty of sex and violence.

Vanity... one of my favorite sins.

Kevin Lomax (Reeves) is a Gainesville, Florida prosecutor-turned-defense attorney with a sixty-case winning streak. However, the trial at the film's opening, where a school teacher is being accused of child molestation by one of his students (who you may recognize as the young protagonist from the indie-hit "Welcome to the Dollhouse"), may end Lomax's winning streak-- it becomes very clear to Lomax during the proceedings that his client is guilty as sin. However, rather than face up to the demands of his conscience, Lomax brilliantly turns the tables on the accuser and frees his sleazeball client, thus maintaining his no-lose reputation.

This latest triumph in a string of successes attracts the attention of John Milton (Pacino), the flamboyant and charismatic head of a New York City law office. With shades of "The Firm", Lomax and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron, showing us her ever-expanding acting range since her previous outings in "Trial and Error" and "That Thing You Do!") are invited to the Big Apple and is offered a job to head up a new criminal law division at the firm and a new swanky pad to live in. At first, all goes well, as Lomax adjusts to his newfound success and Mary Ann is overwhelmed by her new opulent lifestyle, consumed with decorating the new digs, and introduced to a very elite social circle populated by the very rich and powerful.

I know we've got all this money, and it's supposed to be okay, but it's not.

However, this initial bliss does not last. Lomax becomes increasingly suspicious with the motivations of his boss, finds evidence of illicit activities at the law firm, and is enchanted by a comely fellow lawyer (Connie Nielson). Meanwhile, Mary Ann finds herself increasingly isolated and detached from Kevin, and is troubled by maddening supernatural visions, suggesting that all at the law firm is not as it appears-- the first steps in her descent into insanity.

I only set the stage... you pull your own strings.

Jam-packed into this adaptation of the Andrew Niederman novel are an examination into the nature of temptation, a parallel between the practice of law and the practice of religion, and a scathing commentary on the dehumanizing demands of corporate culture-- definitely more than meets the eye in this one. Throw in lots of great lines (the bulk of them uttered in Pacino's deliciously arrogant style), some interesting plot-twists, mesmerizing imagery (the film is punctuated by time-lapse photography of New York cityscapes and interesting comparative transitions), a haunting score, beautiful production design (check out John Milton's office), superb performances (Pacino's over-the-top performance is a given-- there are few other actors that could pull it off with such aptitude, and the normally-wooden Reeves even manages to outdo himself, despite a wavering Southern accent), and a riveting no-holds-barred fire-and-brimstone climax, and you have one hell of a good time. This is one not to miss.

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