The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Apart from the enormously entertaining finale, THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE 
is one Hell of a long sit.  Keanu "Now you know why I avoid ocean 
liners" Reeves plays a hotshot Florida attorney with an unbroken 
winning streak and one small problem to go along with it:  he's in-
creasing sickened by the scum that he's chosen to defend.  Before 
he can reflect on the matter-- or at least give a call to Dr. 
Laura-- he's offered a dream job in New York City, at a high-power-
ed law firm, where he and his doting wife (Charlize Theron) are 
given personal attention by the founder, John "Paradise Lost" Mil-
ton (Al Pacino), a cackling, charismatic character who keeps a fire 
burning in every room, prefers to travel underground, and seems 
willing to grant their each and every imaginable desire.   Hmmmm, 
could this be... Satan?  

If you didn't catch the tell-all trailer, director Taylor Hackford 
(DOLORES CLAIBORNE) flashes the secret sign at least a double-dozen 
times.  All the usual tricks are trotted out-- quoted scripture, 
religious imagery, exaggerated sound effects, and, even, a handful 
of mighty morphin' power demons.  (The latter are first imagined/
actually seen by the wife, whose sanity starts to go the moment 
that she sets foot into their enormous Park Avenue apartment.)  The 
director doesn't sustain that sinister sense of dread, though, and 
that's one of the fundamental problems right there.  The other is 
an imbalance in plot:  we get too much of Reeve's character and not 
enough of the wife.  She descends into madness much too quickly, 
while it takes forever and a day for him to come back to the moral 
crisis that got him into trouble in the first place.  (Of course, 
it doesn't help that Reeves is entirely wrong for the role.  He 
doesn't have the swagger that the role requires.  Hell, he isn't 
even fully awake in every scene.) 

Damned by a flabby midsection and a stiff leading man, THE DEVIL'S 
ADVOCATE is saved by a strong supporting cast (Heather Matarazzo,
Craig T. Nelson, Don King, etc.), sumptuous set design (by Bruno 
Rubeo), and Pacino's command performance as ol' Scratch.  Al plays 
it cool for most of the movie-- a leer here, a flickered tongue 
there.  For the grand finale, though, he throws the door wide open.  
You can almost hear the director yelling "more! more!" as Pacino 
abandons any remaining notion of restraint, tearing into a price-
less monologue that allows us to finally hear what the Big L. has 
to say on the subjects of God ("he's a sadist"), love ("biochemi-
cally, it's no different than eating large quantities of choco-
late"), and man ("guilt is like a bag of fucking bricks.  All you 
gotta do is set it down").  Even Reeve's mush-mouthed, come-and-go 
Southern accent can't ruin the moment.  I haven't been this grand-
ly entertained in months.  (Rated "R"/138 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

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