The Devil's Advocate

Newcity Chicago

DIRECTED BY: Taylor Hackford

REVIEWED: 10-27-97

At the end of "The Godfather," when Al Pacino takes on the responsibilities of his dark and damaged family, a door closes. The deep, sensitive eyes of the young actor were revealed instead as black pools of malice, treachery, corrupt potential. Years, and "Godfather" sequels, pass. In 1983, who would have thought, watching Al Pacino go coke-crazy, method-mad as Tony Montana in "Scarface," that he was only beginning the steep ascent toward the performance style that would mark his late career, toward his most grandiloquent role-Satan in "The Devil's Advocate." Let's start on the right hoof with "The Devil's Advocate." It's ripe, rollicking trash, brazen, shameless, a hoot. Nuts. Shockingly funny. Bad. The story is ostensibly about the great tests faced by a cocky young man. Keanu Reeves is a never-beaten young Florida defense attorney tempted into choosing a jury for a New York law firm. (Reeves' attempt at a Panhandle drawl is actually kind of sweet.) He brings along his equally pretty and ambitious wife, the statuesque Charlize Theron, despite baleful warnings of the city's evil and iniquity from his weathered, religious mom, Judith Ivey. Once this southern-bred Ken and Barbie arrive on the sleek streets of Manhattan, the city glistens alongside them. As in his last movie, "Dolores Claiborne," director Taylor Hackford works with bright lights, big colors, bigger moments. Endless opportunity awaits those who sacrifice themselves to the demands of the law firm. The pair wind up thrown, not to the wolves, but to nattily dressed John Milton (Pacino), barrister to the dark side, counsel to murderers and arms merchants. Pacino is still capable of playing dodgy little men -- his work in "Donnie Brasco" shows signs of acting, rather than performing. But when he plays broader strokes, Pacino relishes the chance to start at an eye-popping, "r"-rolling, arm-waving freak-out in order to blow the top off over-the-top. What's bracing is what a ride the director makes of this low-ball high-concept-Satan as the greatest, most evil lawyer of them all, a silver-tongued maker of mischief and destroyer of virtue. Pacino brings both colossal vanity and lack of shame to his characterization of the farthest fallen angel. I don't know if his work in "The Devil's Advocate" is brilliant or just crackpot, and I doubt I'll ever have the curiosity to see it again to decide. The script is filled with perverse twists and turns. There is murder and mayhem, masturbation and reckless sexual fantasy, twists and double-crosses, nudity, mutilation. And blood. There is shock as well in Pacino's Milton's stream of unconsciousness, a level of invective, of sheer, profane blasphemy that is jarring in a studio release. The words pour from the devil himself, yes, but the scorch is audible in an audience's shocked, uneasy laughter. There's a carnal, carnival sideshow to every aspect of "The Devil's Advocate," but once we're in the game, we simply watch and wait for Pacino to be consumed by a pillar of id, ego, bellow and brimstone. Pure fire. We are not disappointed.

--Ray Pride

Full Length Reviews
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate

Capsule Reviews
The Devil's Advocate
The Devil's Advocate

Other Films by Taylor Hackford
Dolores Claiborne

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