The Devil's Advocate


1997 demonic drama

Rating: 13/20

Plot: A hotshot lawyer plays small-ball in Florida until he's recruited to a more luxurious life working for a law firm in New York. Soon, temptations

This is a great example of the type of mess that Hollywood can end up with when the writers and directors ambitiously bite off way more than they can chew. There were certainly things I liked a lot about the movie, most notably the wacked-out performance of Al Pacino. I'm not sure if the big reveal of Pacino as Beelzebub was supposed to be a surprising one or not. I mean, it kind of gives it away in the title, doesn't it? Pacino's performance is unhinged, and the viewer sits completely worried that there's going to be on-screen eye proptosis or whatever it's called when dogs' eyes pop out when they're dropped. Every nuance feels deliberate with Pacino, and there are so many of these little twitches, eyebrow raisings, smacked lips, shrugs and slouches, tilts, and eye darts that watching the performance is almost exhausting. I'd listen to arguments that what Pacino does is a little too silly ("Where does he fuck?" "Everywhere!"), but I loved every second he was on the screen.

In fact, Pacino somehow makes Keanu Reeves better, and Keanu Reeves is very nearly awful in this. I think he must have spent some time at the Nicolas Cage Academy of Shifting Accents because I'm not sure what's going on with his here. The screenplay calls for a pretty boy with a gleam, and they get that, but trying to accept Reeves as a person with actual emotions is just as much work as watching Pacino here. Reeves' performance almost singlehandedly topples the entire movie.

What really messes things up, however, has more to do with all this general weirdness which I think was supposed to work as foreshadowing but instead just kind of stick out like vague, deformed growths. A weird baby dream that features entrails, a demon woman formed with gross special effects, and one of the most grotesque and un-erotic sex scenes you're likely to see stand out, but there's a lot of weirdness thrown into this. Add some courtroom drama that is really silly--though honestly, for me, the sillier the better with Hollywood courtroom stuff--and you've got something that is more goofy than it is intriguing, shocking, tense, mysterious, or whatever it's actually supposed to be. The movie, a bloated endeavor, ultimately fails and clumsily deals with themes of pride and temptation, but it's really never boring.

I think Josh might have just recommended it because he knows how much of a Paul Benedict fan I am.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Yeah, a 13/20 is about right (even generous). I never "liked" the movie; I just always thought it gave a look at one of those performances no one else could do like Pacino. I've got a little fascination with "Satan" characters. There's so many ways you could go, and I think Pacino's is one that stands out...maybe even for all the wrong reasons...but who could top his over-the-topness??

Keanu is an idiot. No, strike that. You'd have to be able to play the slightest bit human to be an idiot. He's the equivalent to a box of rocks. Just useless, dangerous if not handled properly, weighing down those trying to move productively. An-y-one could have played that role, and most could have played it better. Seriously, I think Chevy Chase or the freaking dog he did the voice for in Karate Dog could have played that part with as many nuances as Keanu.

And, again, I don't think the movie does the story service. I think the idea of the movie is epic and interesting. The production of it is a little cheap and sophomoric. I gotta say, though, the ending is pretty good. It answers a lot of good philosophical questions.