The Devil's Advocate

movie review by Mark Leeper

A never-losing Florida lawyer (played by Keanu Reeves) is brought to New York to be the
hired gun for the most prestigious law firm in New York. There his mentor (Al Pacino) turns out to
be the quintessence of evil. As the new job takes its toll on his marriage and his very soul,
the young lawyer begins to suspect that there is more to the job than meets the eye. This is glossy,
beautifully staged horror film with an intricate plot that pays homage to several classic horror films.
This one will not stretch your mind, but there is a lot to see.
Rating: +2 (-4 to +4), 7 (0 to 10).
New York Critics: 6 positive, 7 negative, 3 mixed


Kevin Lomax is one terrific lawyer. He has an uncanny way of sizing up prospective jury members and knowing who will be sympathetic. Sixty-four cases in Florida and he has not lost a case. It does not matter if the defendant is guilty or innocent, good guy or scumbag--if Kevin prosecutes the defendant is found guilty; if he defends, the verdict is innocent. People start to notice. Someone who has noticed is John Milton, the head of a prestigious and extremely powerful New York law firm. Milton is a slick and charismatic lawyer. He is in bed figuratively with the rich and powerful. He is in bed literally with sleek and the sexy. And his gifts to those he likes are nearly everything that are really worth having. Impressed with Lomax and his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), Milton is anxious to bring Kevin into the firm, to use his genius, to pay him in money, with a palatial apartment, to see Kevin's every sexual fantasy fulfilled. Mary Ann is at first overjoyed at the success her husband is having and is willing to give up some of his time and his intimacy for the success that is everything she could not get back in Gainesville. But a bit at a time she discovers that her husband is making too many sacrifices of what she shared with him and giving it to the firm. Kevin never worried about being a scrupulous lawyer in the past, but this job is taking too much of a toll on his soul. As he gets pulled deeper and deeper into defending the guilty, Mary Ann is slowly disintegrating and Kevin is powerless to stop it. The Devil's Advocate is a good old- fashioned, well-plotted horror film in the style of the horror films of the 60s and 70s. No geysers of blood or crazed stalkers. The first half hour could be from a John Grisham novel. Then weird things start happening. The law firm seems to have its hands in evil, not just figuratively, but also literally.

In the past I have not been fond of Keanu Reeves's acting which I generally find wooden. Here perhaps that quality works to his advantage, both to contrast to Al Pacino and to present the feeling that there is something mysterious going on in his mind that we cannot quite fathom. And if there is not quite enough going on the screen with Reeves's performance, there is more than enough supplied by Pacino. Pacino is far more expressive in part because his character can afford to be. He gives a high-energy performance that would steal a scene from a puppy. There are, however, two scenes in the film when he turns the performance up too high and he goes into overload mode. One is a pivotal scene involving the character played by Jeffrey Jones; the other time is an extended scene very near the end of the film. Both times his performance gets to be just a bit overripe. Charlize Theron is rather nice as the incredible dissolving wife. Also nice to see is an uncredited part by the always watchable Delroy Lindo. The acting is all brought together by Taylor Hackford, who previously did the under-rated The Idolmaker, as well as An Office and a Gentlemanand Dolores Claiborne. The set design by Roberta J. Holinko is very nice with some really memorable artwork. Other effects by Rick Baker are perhaps not up to some of his finest, but are still very worth seeing.

This may not be the most intelligent film of the autumn season, but it stands among the best horror films we have seen on the screen in the last few years. I rate it a +2 on the -4 to +4 scale.

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