To imply that the most plausible human incarnation of the devil would be as the owner of a hugely successful law firm in New York, would be fair and disturbingly true. And for a film to dare to tell the story of a soulless lawyer who is hired by the devil himself to legally front all his dirty work without ever losing a case, it means that our opinion of all legal systems is out in the open. The Devil’s Advocate takes its title literally and fully bases its story on the phrase’s farthest implications, with Satan being the law firm and his advocate the most skilled defense attorney available. Supernatural, sometimes taken too far, but always a cartoonized version of a very dirty truth, Taylor Hackford’s The Devil’s Advocate makes you think while offering you the comfort of a surreal background and an entertaining plot.
“Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” — the unmistakable message of the biggest part of the film. Go as far as you can, use any means, as long as you get where you want to go. Al Pacino’s John Milton is the head of the law firm and Satan, while Keanu Reeves’ Kevin Lomax is his advocate and Charlize Theron’s Mary Ann is his stunning wife. They are both living the life, reigning Hell, earning absurd amounts of money, sleeping with gorgeous women. The dream has become reality, until of course morality makes an appearance and the sense of what is right and wrong starts spoiling their fun.
Based on Andrew Neiderman’s novel, The Devil’s Advocate seems “normal” until it’s proven paranormal. The way it was adapted for the screen by Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy starts the story in a very smooth but distressing manner, where the bad guys seem to be winning and the good guys losing. It becomes clear from the start that this will be a film torn between right and wrong, the legal system’s front and reality. However, at a certain point everything takes that non-expected turn towards supernatural, bizarre and darkly comical. Whether this is a smooth turn or not, I couldn’t say. A lot would argue that it’s flimsy and exaggerated. Personally, I find it interesting, entertaining and oddly dark, always in a Hollywoody kind of way.
There are definitely questions left unanswered and points where the plot is taken to extremes, becoming laughable and for some, annoying. But at the same time there’s no doubt that Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino are mind-blowing and watching them do their thing is entertainment at its best. Reeves is stone-cold, distant from everything around him, evil, determined to succeed – a narcissist. Pacino is mad. His facial expressions and gestures keep you guessing whether he’s supposed to be the devil, or someone so intelligent and genuinely malevolent that has ended up losing it completely. Together, they are pure pleasure to watch and Pacino’s monologue when he finally reveals his true identity to his advocate is out of this world.
The script is full of clever Heaven and Hell references, sinister lines and double entendres, which, together with some stunning Manhattan-rooftop visuals, a glossy direction and two exceptional performances, offer The Devil’s Advocate an abundance of incredible moments. The plot may be far-fetched, but the message that the film conveys is definitely true. And Al Pacino’s Satan is a good enough reason not only to watch The Devil’s Advocate, but also to admit you enjoyed it.
The Devil’s Advocate at IMDb
The Devil’s Advocate at Wikipedia
The Devil’s Advocate at Rotten Tomatoes
The Devil’s Advocate (awards won and nominated for) at IMDb