Film Scouts Reviews

"The Devil's Advocate"

by Richard Schwartz

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Yeah, I think I'll quit studying for the LSATs about now.

My sentiments having just returned from a screening of "The Devil's Advocate," in which I was informed that lawyers are essentially the earthbound agents of Satan. That's right - all those who believe in, say, the fourth amendment right to "due process" and the principle that "all are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law" are inherently, well, sinners.

Quite an indictment of the legal industry and its "win-at-all-costs" mentality. To say the film is a bit overarching in its assault is an understatement. "The Devil's Advocate" falls flat in its attempt to become a kind of modern morality play that makes one stand back and recognize that certain segments of our society are plainly sinister. Where a film like "Wall Street" succeeded thanks to the relatively modest manner (this is <old> Oliver Stone, remember?) in which it suggested its "Greed-is-Bad" message, "The Devil's Advocate" is marred by a dependence on grandiose aesthetics and over-the-top theatrics and ultimately stumbles in its bid to become the "Wall Street" of jurisprudence.

Keanu Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax, a young Florida defense attorney with an ability to effectively read a jury's mind and craft a winning defense for even the slimiest clients. A New York firm, duly impressed by his undefeated trial record, recruits Lomax to bring his talent to the big city. There he will face even greater trial challenges and, with them, moral affronts that slowly force an inner conflict. That struggle is mirrored by the fraying of the delicate relationship with his mentally instable wife (Charlize Theron), who begins hallucinating and claiming she was raped by the devil. The great overseer of it all is, of course, the aptly named John Milton (Al Pacino), the brilliant yet slickly evasive head of Lomax's law firm. Through special effects wizardry and dialectic gimmickery, Milton is revealed as the Devil and law as his neo-sadistic embodiment.

Keanu Reeves' shoddy acting is always a given, but sadly Pacino is given little to work with as well by co-screenwriters Jonathan Lemkin and Tony Gilroy. The audience is treated to another exclamatory soliloquy by the man who does it best, but the dialogue is neither clever nor crafty. Instead, director Taylor Hackford displays on over-reliance on Rick Baker make-up tricks, elaborate set designs, and a terribly overdone Big-Apple-as-Satan's-Basement motif. When the distracting visual storm finally passes and Lomax's plodding epiphany is complete, the audience feels exhaustion instead of enlightenment and reduction rather than revelation.

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