October 17, 2017 The Devil’s Advocate – Still Tempting After 20 Years
You think you have daddy issues: imagine finding out that you are the son of Satan! This ridiculously shocking addition to the family tree haunted Keanu Reeves in the brilliant Supernatural Thriller The Devil’s Advocate, which opened in theaters some twenty years ago, on Friday, October 17th in 1997.
An amazingly done film, The Devil’s Advocate – based off Andrew Neiderman’s novel and directed by Taylor Hackford (An Officer and a Gentleman 1982, Dolores Claiborne 1995) – tells the tale of one Kevin Lomax (Reeves: Point Break 1991, John Wick 2014), a small-time Southern lawyer slogging away to make his mark in legal history. As the film opens in Gainesville, Florida, we witness Lomax defending a schoolteacher against allegations of child molestation. Understanding that his client is, in fact, guilty as-charged, a somewhat shaken Lomax manages to destroy the victim during cross-examination, securing a shocking “Not Guilty” verdict for his client. Of course, as fate would have it, a representative of a major New York City law-firm was in-town to witness the entire ordeal.
As Lomax’ star begins to rise impressively, he finds himself landing a much-coveted spot at that New York firm. New boss John Milton (Al Pacino: The Godfather 1972, Donnie Brasco 1997) is quick to take Lomax under his wing, introducing him around the office, inviting the young couple to lavish parties and setting them up with an impressive apartment in the city.
While Kevin is in-demand and loving his newfound success – perpetually busy and away from home – the relocation to the Big Apple is not going quite so easily for his gorgeous wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron: 2 Days in the Valley 1996, Monster 2003), who, unaccustomed to their lavish new lifestyle and rich friends, quickly becomes overwhelmed, haunted by nightmares and seemingly suffering from visual hallucinations. Hoping to alleviate Mary Ann’s loneliness, Kevin’s deeply religious mother Alice (Judith Ivey: The Woman in Red 1984, Flags of our Fathers 2006) comes for a visit that seems to spark more controversy than it resolves.
As the situation escalates, Kevin is charged with defending high-profile billionaire Alex Cullen (Craig T. Nelson: Poltergeist 1982, The Incredibles 2004), accused of murdering his wife, stepson, and a maid. This, in turn, takes further time away from his family life with Mary Ann, whose condition is spiraling quickly downward. Enter into the picture the stunning Christabella (Connie Nielsen: Gladiator 2000, Wonder Woman 2017), a multilingual co-worker at the firm, and the firm’s managing partner, the somewhat ominous Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off 1986, Sleepy Hollow 1999), and Kevin’s life is at max complication level. As his career seems to pick up speed (pun intended), Mary Ann grows more and more desperate and in need of his understanding. Unable to slow the snowball of success and, perhaps, unwilling to take time away to care for his partner, Lomax will ultimately have to face the truth of his situation: did he sell his soul to the devil for his successes? Or is the devil, perhaps, in his blood?
While history has been kind to the film, The Devil’s Advocate opened to mixed fan and critic reviews. That said, it earned over an estimated $152 million at the box office throughout its run and would ultimately by championed for Pacino’s performance as Milton, going on to win “Best Horror Film” at the Saturn Awards. Which is intriguing in its own right, as it is a bit of a stretch to consider The Devil’s Advocate a Horror film, no?
However you categorize it, the film was extremely intriguing: Pacino’s character, Milton, was a clear homage to the classic work Paradise Lost (written by John Milton), and the story itself contained a myriad of allusions to Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, Faust, as well the aforementioned Milton and Paradise Lost. The film was, in a sense, a visual representation of a bevy of intelligent, classic, and much-beloved literature; a uniquely modern tale that imbued all the very best elements of its highly literate base. The Devil’s Advocate also played heavily with religion, offering up plenty of fodder for the armchair religious scholar.
It is interesting to note that Pacino actually declined the role of Milton three times before, with enough editing done to the script, he finally came on-board for the production. In turn, Reeves – who turned down the starring role in Speed 2 to sign on as Lomax – reportedly took a several million dollar pay-cut to allow for Pacino’s salary demands to be met. Whatever the case, fate was clearly on the side of the film, as the end result is a superb offering that, twenty years later, is still much beloved by many. With its unique blend of Drama, Supernatural Thrills, and, perhaps, (Diet) Horror, The Devil’s Advocate had twists and turns, and an ending that was guaranteed to shock its viewers.
Simply put, The Devil’s Advocate is a superb film that stands the test of time beautifully. Full of marvelous acting from its stellar cast, allusions to classic literature, religious references galore, and with its on-location shoots throughout New York City, this is a film that can be watched again and again. Underrated and oft overlooked, celebrating twenty amazing years, The Devil’s Advocate is a movie that does everything right, coming to an explosively shocking conclusion that is gloriously memorable. Thank Satan for good films!