“The Devil’s Advocate” does not get the accolades it truly deserves, and I’ve never understood why. It is more that just a supernatural thriller or a legal drama. It’s both actually, and most films cannot lay that claim.
Director Taylor Hackford has assembled a brilliant cast that boasts a debut from Charlize Theron in the incredibly complex role of Marienne, wife to Keanu Reeves’ hot shot Gainesville attorney. Theron hits every pulse perfectly beginning with loose, beautiful and cocky to insecure, haunted and victimized. When I first saw the film in theatres, I left believing she’ll get an Oscar nomination. Alas, the powers that be never gave her consideration and they were wrong. Beyond a relishing Al Pacino as the lord’s most infamous fallen angel, Theron’s performance sends the script home into absolute believability. The power of Satan is executed on Marienne, and the visual and audible evidence lies in Theron’s delirious performance. She’s astonishing.
Next up, Reeves is entitled to lots of credit. The role of Kevin Lomax is his best role (Ahem…Sorry, Neo). He carries a disillusioned swagger that he is as good as his record of trial wins implies. Yet, is he as good as the best of the best New York City attorneys? When you are the son of Satan, maybe so. What works best though are the ongoing tests of will for Reeves’ character. His inescapable hillbilly dialect blends perfectly with a script that questions temptation against instinct against opting for what is right. At the time of release, Keanu Reeves might have been perceived as his surfer dude Ted character to not be taken seriously enough here. I never let that be an interference for me however. Reeves doesn’t compromise and avoid the wholesome, god fearing kid that Kevin Lomax is meant to be. Instead, his Christian teachings seem like a nuisance for him; an obstacle to a more satisfying life regardless of sin. Reeves balances the dimensions beautifully.
Then there’s the machine behind all this. Al Pacino is John Milton, hardly disguising his true identity. He’s too proud of who he is to do that. Sure Pacino is chewing the scenery. Yet, shouldn’t he? This is Mephistopheles he’s playing here; an entity ready to undo the will of the Lord. He carries no honor for God. However, he maintains a rule book and before he accepts a disciple, he’ll make certain that it is by the follower’s choice alone. He administers the test, but he doesn’t take it. Pacino gets the best lines and the best monologues. He’s treated with an opportunity to two step along with Frank Sinatra. He’s given free reign to operate based on his legendary career. He’s my favorite devil of any and all films.
Taylor Hackford is meticulous in his direction. There’s a great moment near the beginning where Kevin is saying goodbye to his God loving and very Christian mother. He goes to her church. This is the first of many smart choices for Hackford. He does not allow Kevin to step inside the church. Rather, he paces just outside the door. Kevin does not have a relationship with God, thus opening an opportunity for Satan. Other moments are there too such as Milton always insisting on traveling by subway…underground. Heck, there’s even a moment where a man with a box that says “Halo Industry” walks by Kevin and John; nice subtle nod. New York City is treated like a character boasting its sky high numerous cathedrals and angelic art work. Pacino is the ultimate NYC resident; a creature of the concrete jungle. Hackford also recruits the notorious to boost the lair surrounding Reeves and Theron with appearances from the likes of Don King and Alphonse D’Amato.
This is one of my favorite films. It carries not one single flaw. It is richly assembled in dialogue, story, cast set design and direction.
“The Devil’s Advocate” is one of those films that you want to watch over and over and delight in Pacino’s thought provoking one liners, debate with your conscience vs Satan’s own argument (he makes some good points here), and question the power of free will. It’s a fun, thinking picture.