The Devil’s Advocate (1997)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5.  

USA/Germany, 1997.  Warner Bros., Regency Enterprises, Kopelson Entertainment, Taurus Film, Monarchy Enterprises B.V..  Screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin, Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman.  Cinematography by Andrzej Bartkowiak.  Produced by Anne Kopelson, Arnon Milchan, Arnold Kopelson.  Music by James Newton Howard.  Production Design by Bruno Rubeo.  Costume Design by Judianna Makovsky.  Film Editing by Mark Warner.  

This unwieldy mess manages to be remarkably ridiculous while at the same having absolutely no sense of fun.  Keanu Reeves outdoes even his own terrible performances as a Florida lawyer whose pride comes from never having a lost a case, at the beginning of this film defending a teacher accused of molesting a student. His success in getting the obviously guilty defendant off on a legal loophole brings him enough renown that a swanky New York City law firm poaches him and brings him and his wife (Charlize Theron) up to the Big Apple, where they enjoy a luxurious life while Reeves continues his brand of slithering legal genius. His expertise is not lost on the firm’s big boss (Al Pacino), an orator of noted magnificence with even fewer moral compunctions than our hero who, it turns out, is actually old Scratch himself. Getting into the quagmire of this film’s plot is a frustrating experience, Theron’s character is at first immoral and impulsive before switching to a teary, abandoned housewife who begins to see demonic visions thanks to her husband prioritizing his work above her, while Reeves spends the whole movie boring us with his legal skills and never cluing in to Pacino’s identity until he magically puts it together in the final act. A subplot with Judith Ivey as his Bible-thumping mother is further nonsense that really helps highlight the unfortunate case of a serious director and an accomplished writer, both of whom had collaborated on the superb Dolores Claiborne only two years earlier, trying to make something respectable out of this trash when what they should be doing is indulging in the kind of guilty pleasure that prepares the way for shows like True Blood. Where the film really fails is in providing Pacino’s fans with what they came for:  we put the devil in movies more than we do the good Lord because he’s more entertaining, even John Milton, after whom the main character is named, knew this, so why am I spending all this time watching Craig T. Nelson defend himself and Theron going shopping with soulless legal wives?  Casting one of the most famously outsized performers in a role that places no limitations on his booming voice means we show up to see Pacino tear the house down, but the script reduces him to a few cameo appearances before his big finish.

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