The Devil's Advocate (1997)

the-devils-advocate-1606-16x9-largeWhen the credits roll, “The Devil’s Advocate” reveals itself to be a massively ambitious but incredibly mediocre supernatural thriller that sanctimoniously dismisses big city, big business, and law as the stomping grounds of the devil, while casting out its protagonist Kevin as evil for leaving the small country and submitting to the potentially successful life in the big city. There, the skyscrapers are empty, the streets are endless, and the folks are demons of excess, vanity, and sheer adultery. Taylor Hackford’s supernatural thriller seems to be built on and around the final monologue of Al Pacino’s character John Milton, who gives a rousing speech about God, sin, and everything else to protégé Kevin.

The rest of the film from beginning to end seems half assed, and is often incredibly underwhelming. In fact, the script is very much a misfire as it focuses on just all of the wrong characters. When it should be focusing on John Milton, it’s intent on zeroing in on the underwhelming and often uninteresting Kevin Lomax. And the story often trails off with Kevin when it should be focusing on the enduring nightmare of wife Mary Ann. A country girl by heart, Mary Ann spends most of the film gazing in awe at the big city abundance and superficiality and deals with her own unresolved issues of a miscarriaged baby. Offering shades of Mia Farrow in “Rosemary’s Baby,” Mary Ann’s journey in to the darkness is much more fascinating and unlike Reeves, Charlize Theron actually manages to display shock at the sheer lunacy of this situation.

Tempted and seduced by Milton, plagued with nightmares, prone to visions of demonic facades with the women she’s forced to hang around, Mary Ann’s journey from put upon wife to complete lunatic incapable of comprehending this horrific land of lost souls is compelling and sadly snuffed out before the film closes. Though “The Devil’s Advocate” reaches for above average quality, most of the time it’s all such a rote and predictable tale, that the audience will always be ten steps ahead of the storyteller. We already know that this city is filled with pure evil, we know that Kevin is involved with a company whose business practices is basically supernatural, and we know who and what John Milton is from minute one. I can just imagine the initial reading of the script occurred as such:

[Flipping through page ten of “The Devil’s Advocate” script]
Producer: Oh, so John Milton is the devil.
Writer: Read the whole script before you think that!
Producer: But he is the devil, right?
Writer: You’re only ten pages in, it’s a big mystery for the audience until the very end!
Producer: It’s obvious. He’s the devil. Right?
Writer: Fine. Yes, he’s the devil.

The script seems to be on this idea that it’s much more clever than we actually think, when most times its attempts at outwitting the audience either results in a brutally predictable result, or just a nonsensical outcome that really resolves nothing. I mean, was Mary Ann just driven insane by her alienation in this new land, her husband’s cold attitude toward her, and her past with her child? Or was John Milton systematically crushing her sanity? Was John trying to make Mary Ann insane or was he trying to impregnate her with his child? Damned, if it’s ever explained. Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves are supposed to have dynamic chemistry as two sides of the same coin.

Reeves is a slick lawyer with ways of proving his clients’ innocence and he can become pure evil, while Milton embraced evil a long time ago. And yet, the two never muster up enough friction two become compelling as a cinematic duo. Especially when Reeves gazes with jaw agape at most scenes while Pacino is at all levels of over the top here. It’s as if the director approached Pacino and instructed him to go wild in this role. And Pacino obliged. Ten Fold. Though director Taylor Hackford’s Supernatural thriller seems to have a lot of commentary about morality, lost souls, and the downward spiral of wealth, “The Devil’s Advocate” is far too bland and mediocre to really pull off such heavy handed themes.