Ealasaid/ November 13, 1997/ Movie Reviews and Features, Writing

Originally written for The Occidental.

Looking for a way to keep the spirit of Halloween alive? Ready for a film that is both horrific and a fiendishly good time? If you answered “yes” to either of those questions, you’ll want to see The Devil’s Advocate(starring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves).

I know, I know, you’re probably thinking, “All Pacino’s cool, but Keanu Reeves? Come on! Well, give it a shot anyway — you might be surpassed. I know I was. Reeves may have stuck out like a sore thumb in films like Much Ado About Nothing, but here he does a surprisingly good job. It helps that the rest of the film is good, too, and part of what makes it interesting is that it defies categorization. It falls somewhere between horror and drama (call it a dramatic horror film), with elements of black comedy thrown in. The plot is good, the acting is great (come on, we’re talking Al Pacino here!), the violence is balanced well — not too much or too little, and the effects are excellent.

The Devil’s Advocate is like a good roller-coaster — it starts out gentle, but once it gets started, it never gives you more than a moment to catch your breath. You may see some of the curves coming, but there are plenty that catch you totally unaware. Our protagonist, Kevin Lomax (Reeves) is a young hotshot Florida lawyer who gets hired by a large New York firm. He had his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) are soon moved into one of the sumptuous company apartments, and Kevin is under the wing of the senior partner, John Milton (Pacino). But what seems like a dream come true soon turns into a nightmare as Lomax finds himself defending guilty clients and Mary Ann begins to realize things about the people they’ve fallen in with. Although it starts out as a courtroom drama, The Devil’s Advocate soon spirals into horror — but so smoothly that the audience doesn’t even notice until demons are coming out of the woodwork, and it seems to be perfectly rational. The plot flows wonderfully, and it isn’t until the end that one notices the loose ends — always a sign of a good film.

When it comes to discussing the acting, where can I begin? Anyone familiar with Al Pacino’s work knows what to expect from him: a brilliant and multi-faceted portrayal. Here he not only delivers that, but is obviously having fun as well — after all, how often does an actor get to play a lawyer who really is the Devil incarnate? As I mentioned above, Keanu Reeves does a surprisingly good job as well — a good thing for him, since bad acting opposite Pacino looks worse than usual. Reeves is able to give his naive character some depth, and to portray the moral struggles Lomax goes through without looking silly. Reeves is very cast physically as well, for reasons which become clear as the film nears its climax.

Part of what makes The Devil’s Advocate hard to classify is its violence — there’s far more than in a typical drama, but not as much as one would expect in a horror movie. There is very little (compared to most horror films, anyway) actual violence, but it is very graphic. It’s also brief — by the time you’re done cringing and saying, “ew!” the nastiness is off-cameral. Most of the violence is intellectually disturbing more than gut-wrenchingly gruesome, which is a pleasant change from the slushier films of the last decade or so.

Although The Devil’s Advocate is a dramatic horror film, it does not rely heavily (as do many others in the genre) on gory special effects. It also doesn’t over-use computer graphics, which is usually the bane of any modern supernatural film. Computer morphing is used for short periods of time in most cases, and meant to look unnatural — which it does. The most impressive effect is a perfect use of the technology — a huge marble bas relief comes to life before our eyes. It’s one of the most memorable moments in the film.

So, what can I tell you about The Devil’s Advocate? It’s one hell of a ride, and a fiendishly fun film — if you enjoy dramatic horror.

If you’re looking for a piece of fluff, go somewhere else.