Ya gotta love advertising campaigns. They sum up Devil’s Advocate so succinctly (an attorney goes to work for the Devil), that you might think the whole film was just a particularly apt jab at lawyers. But, rather than being what could be an unusual segment on the Jerry Springer show, The Devil’s Advocate is a smart, savvy, supernatural thriller. Heck, the titicular revelation isn’t even made until nearly two hours in.
Keanu Reeves plays attorney Kevin Lomax. Although at first this might seem to be a bit of a stretch for Keanu, he does a very good job with it. Lomax has never lost a case, and his practice in Florida has attracted the attentions of a large law firm in New York City. Lured to the big city with lots of money, he finds himself the rising star in the firm.
However, there’s more here than meets the eye. Something’s not quite right at the new firm. The source of all that is unwell lies with John Milton (Al Pacino), the firm’s senior partner. Charming on the outside, there are hints here and there (though the film never makes a commitment until the finale) that he is the Devil himself.
Kevin, of course, is blind to all of this…even when he’s forced to defend a goat-butchering pagan (Delroy Lindo). His wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), is not. From the moment they step into their new world, Mary Ann starts having demonic supernatural visions and begins to lose a grip on her sanity. Another warning comes from Kevin’s bible-thumping mother (Judith Ivey), who cautions Kevin about the evils all around him.
Keanu Reeves, whose stiff and drowsy acting technique has made him the butt of many jokes, actually displays a little range in this film. Sure, he has to be prodded here and there, and his Southern accent slips on occasion, but he actually carries the role very well. In fact, it is probably the best acting job he has done so far in his career.
Al Pacino, on the other hand, is one of the best actors around. Here, he may not give the absolute best performance of his career, but he sure has a devilishly fun time doing it. He starts out slowly…but as the film progresses, he gets to open up his performance, and his final over-the-top monologue is an impressive tour-de-force that is a delight to watch.
They are helped out by a strong supporting cast (also including such memorable faces as Jeffrey Jones, and Craig T. Nelson). Charlize Theron, in particular, stands out as the slowly collapsing wife.
Director Taylor Hackford guides the film well in its transition from legal drama to supernatural thriller. Done poorly, the whole film could have become one big bad lawyer joke. Instead, the film builds up momentum until, literally, all Hell breaks loose.
At its very end, The Devil’s Advocate becomes a bit gimmicky. But even this fault is handled well, and rather than bringing down the movie, it at least tries to give a different perspective on the events.
The Devil’s Advocate has much more depth than its tabloid title hints at. It’s creepy and unnerving, filled with very good dialogue, and great fun to watch.