Opening to mixed reviews when it finally arrived in the UK in 1998, but now appearing to be something of a cult favourite, this Faustian tale starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron is entertaining and gripping from its courtroom drama start until its crazy final scene.
Kevin Lomax (Reeves) is a defence attorney from Florida who has never lost a case. When he manages to return a ‘not guilty’ verdict for a child molester whom he knows is guilty after a harsh cross-examination of the victim, it seems just another case won for Lomax, no matter who gets hurt. While celebrating with friends and beautiful wife, Mary Ann (Theron), Lomax is approached by a representative from a New York law firm offering him a large sum of money for his services in a jury selection. After later accepting an offer from the firm’s boss, John Milton (Pacino), that includes a large salary and a luxury apartment, it seems Kevin Lomax’s dreams are coming true. And this is where the fun begins.
Taking Kevin under his wing, John Milton seems like a great boss; trusting of Kevin’s abilities, charismatic, charming, fun but also knows when to act like a boss and take charge when needs be, therefore gaining the respect of the people who work for him and all those around him. What makes Milton stand out from other bosses is that there is something mysterious about him that makes you (both Kevin and the viewer) wonder what he’s hiding.
A potentially dangerous confrontation on a subway train between a couple of thugs and John and Kevin that leaves the would be attackers walking quickly away in fear of John after he speaks to them in a different language is a subtle hint that maybe he’s more than just a big boss of a big law firm. Another moment when Kevin joins John in a fancy restaurant and, surrounded by beautiful women, John convinces one to pleasure him from underneath the table is when you realise there’s more to John Milton than meets the eye. It’s also when you realise this isn’t Keanu Reeves’ movie; Al Pacino totally owns the film with some brilliant speeches, lines, lessons and monologues, mostly delivered with a mischievous lick of the lips or roaring laughter. But still, you do have to wonder what exactly he is up to.
Assigning Lomax to a high-profile case involving a billionaire accused of murdering his wife, the busy case separates him even further from wife, Mary Ann, who is already feeling neglected, alone and intimidated by her new lifestyle and those around her, clearly affecting her mental health. Yet when Milton suggests he should step down and look after his wife, he refuses. At this point it seems Kevin Lomax is on something of a downward spiral. Although he can’t see the whole picture, life is about to take a huge and devastating turn for Kevin as the film heads towards its spectacular finale.
Without wanting to give too much away for those that can’t remember it or (gasp) haven’t seen it yet (where have you been?!), there are some dire consequences for those closest to Kevin. The build up to the final scene involves some disturbing, brutal but ultimately entertaining moments as we end up in John Milton’s large and over-the-top office with Kevin, John and the gorgeous co-worker Kevin’s been eyeing up throughout the film (what’s she doing there and who is she…?).
From then on it’s the Pacino show (as if it wasn’t already) and the big reveal comes when he announces– or, rather Kevin guesses correctly, who he really is…*SPOILER*…The Devil, Satan, Prince of Darkness etc. etc. (“I have so many names”) and Kevin is in fact…*SPOILER 2*…his son! Although I have given away the big twists, I don’t want to elaborate on the rest of the final scene as it’s definitely worth a watch or re-watch as it’s so much fun as well as being dark and disturbing. Pacino is on fire (literally, at one point) as he delivers solid gold lines (“HE’S AN ABSENTEE LANDLORD!”) and is clearly revelling in his role as the ultimate villain.
Watching The Devil’s Advocate again makes you realise how good the much-maligned Keanu Reeves can be too. Seeing it now ten years on, you may think he’d be easily overshadowed by the likes of Al Pacino and Charlize Theron, but Reeves more than holds his own as Kevin Lomax; which is good because the other two give brilliant performances as well.
Overall, The Devil’s Advocate is a gripping, often darkly funny, sometimes disturbing but definitely pure entertainment and a horror/thriller that deserves its cult status.