by JESSICA FERRI
The Devil's Advocate
dir. Taylor Hackford
Are you a really good lawyer or is your dad just the devil? This is the type of question that plagued our minds in the 90s. The Devil's Advocate is a genuinely disturbing film — Keanu Reeves moves his face more in this movie than any other he's made.
Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) is a Florida prosecutor turned defense attorney who has never lost a case in his life. After he gets a pedophile off scot-free (even though he knows he's guilty), the Devil himself takes notice and sends a minion to hire Lomax and bring him and his wife (Charlize Theron) to New York. Because, obviously, if Lucifer went into business he would be a high-powered lawyer in Manhattan. He explains, "the law is everywhere."
The struggle between good and evil is of course, the struggle between the Godless (New York) and the God-obsessed (the South). Speaking with the Southern accents of a middle-school drama class, we know it isn't good when the naive defense attorney takes his peach of a wife to the big city to work for Al Pacino. Lomax's Mama, a bible-beater, begs him not to go. New York, shot with cameras laid flat on the ground or five million feet in the air, does indeed appear threatening. This is pre-Brooklyn New York. There are no locavores. This is pure indulgent, black furniture Manhattan. People eat steaks.
As for Pacino, his pact with the devil must have ended in 1997, because he still looks pretty good in this movie. Good enough for it to be believable that he's surrounded by women that he can turn into lesbians at the drop of a hat. With a mere whisper, he can order the Zebra that is the blow-job-under-the-table-at-a-crowded-restaurant. Did I mention his character's name is John Milton? And his favorite sin is Vanity.
Keanu and Charlize do their part, frenching up against walls — it's the 90s, you know, times were good. Sex drives were up. The Devil's Advocate was Charlize's "breakout" role, and I think you can see why. You get a man off for murder and you go to the local bar in Gainsville, Florida and do some shots with your wife who is hot enough to melt asphalt. If it were 2011, you'd be shaking your head over $2 beers saying, "I'm just lucky to have a job."
But this kind of behavior gets you in trouble. Charlize can't pick out a color for their "classic-eight" on the Upper West Side, and her friends turn out to be demons. One asks, "My boobs: real or fake?" She pleads with Kevin not to leave her alone at the party, but of course he does. When he gets back to the apartment she's got her hair in a towel and she's drinking Red Label. Someone's in the dog house!
Night after night goes by, and Kevin's working on triple-homicide where we're supposed to believe that Coach (Craig T. Nelson) was mean enough to murder his wife, his maid, and his son. Seriously?
One night Charlize dreams about a baby, because she's from the South, so obviously she wants to get pregnant. But then, shit, someone steals her ovaries, and low and behold, John Milton is sticking his hand into some holy water just to watch it sizzle. No one believes that Pacino has raped Charlize or stolen her ovaries, so she totally loses it. (I'd be pissed, too.)
Upon being wheeled into the loony bin, she tells Kevin it was all of that "blood money" they took — all the cases when they knew the defendants were guilty. At this point you think Kevin would have figured it out, but no, his Mama has to show up at the hospital to tell him about a church trip to New York in 1966 where she met a man who quoted scripture to her — "I send you out a sheep among the wolves," what a turn on! — and knocked her up. So Kevin's father is none other than, yeah, you guessed it.
After Charlize offs herself by slitting her own throat in the hospital (a scene in which Keanu Reeves really deserves an Oscar, I'm not sure why he wasn't nominated), The Devil's Advocate moves from a delightful little analogy (If lawyers are Satan, should we question our materialistic value system as Americans?) to full-on camp. Pacino wants Keanu to do it with his sister, which is not a problem. Even though she's thin with breast implants, she has really beautiful red hair. Red, get it? Like the fires of Hades!
Before Kevin sells himself to the devil by having sex with his hot sister, he realizes, thanks to health and unemployment insurance, that he has free will! Since he can't kill his Pops, he turns the gun on himself and blows his brains out, igniting what must be one of the most ridiculous "Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!!!!" sequences of all cinema history, with some kind of Lacrimosa playing in the background as Pacino screams until his eyes bug out of his head and it's not special effects he's just really good at it, as all the Devil's dreams turn to ash. Even silicone implants apparently turn to ash. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, etc.
At the end of movies like The Devil's Advocate, no matter how bad things get (bullet through head usually equals death) you can always go back and do-over. We all can't be this horny and this successful without a fall-out, right? If this were a Von Trier film, he would have fucked his sister and then ran out into the moonlit streets of Manhattan, covered in blood, chased down by naked women. But it's the 90s, we need to reset. And so we're back at the beginning. Kevin's got another chance at the case back in Florida — and he does the right thing, gets the hell out of there with Charlize. Unfortunately for Pacino, this film signals his full metamorphosis from Michael Corleone to Mr. "Hoo-ha." Look for it in his monologue at the end:
Jessica Ferri is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here, and you can find her website here. She twitters here. She last wrote in these pages about Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.
The Cinema of the 1990s at This Recording
Elena Schilder on American Beauty
Elizabeth Gumport on Wild Things
Hanson O'Haver on Airheads
Alex Carnevale on Indecent Proposal
Emma Barrie on While You Were Sleeping
Jessica Ferri on The Devil's Advocate
Durga Chew-Bose on Titanic
Molly Lambert on Basic Instinct
Alex Carnevale on Singles
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"Wild Man" - Kate Bush (mp3)
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The new album from Kate Bush, entitled 50 Words for Snow, will be released on November 21st.