The Test of Time: Devil's Advocate (1997)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether or not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, and Charlize Theron

Al Pacino has had a hell of a career. The guy has played just about everything from an Italian gangster, to a Cuban gangster, to a Puerto Rican gangster. No Irish though. Seriously though, he IS one of the greatest actors ever, but like DeNiro, they either got comfortable, got shitty film roles, or started only to chase the money. Can’t blame them. Still, looking back at their careers it’s interesting to see when things got…weird. Case in point for Mr. Pacino: back in 1997 when he took the role of the devil.

Does it hold up as a horror classic or simply a worthy view for old Al?

Under the examination: Devil’s Advocate


THE STORY: Hotshot slick Southern lawyer Kevin Lomax (Reeves) has been on a hellva win streak. It doesn’t matter the case or the client, the dude wins. Suddenly, he gets an offer he can’t refuse…to come to New York to work for a guy named John Milton who closely resembles Michael Corleone. Lomax agrees and even though things get weird quickly, he can’t get enough of Milton’s wild lifestyle and the excitement of the big city. His wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), isn't having such a fine time and starts to lose her marbles. Once things get all devilish, will Lomax be able to resist temptation?

"Worship me."

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I hadn’t seen Devil’s Advocate in years and a few things stood out to me. For one, Al f*cking Pacino. Obviously, I knew he brought his AAAA! game to table, but damn it, he’s good. Of course he’s completely over the top at times (that ending) and had already started to become a caricature of himself. But now, over 15 years after the film’s release, it’s been so long since Pacino dominated that it’s nice to see him not only entertain the audience, but enjoy himself, too. He’s the freakin’ devil and seems to love it. Can you blame him? 

Director Taylor Hackford (Ray) does a dandy job of teasing Milton’s evil nature throughout the first half (even though we all know), giving little hints here and there until the scene on the train. That’s when some thugs threaten him. Milton stays cool, but then tells the guy (in perfect Spanish) about things he can’t possibly know. It’d scare of the hell out of anyone. The third act is when Pacino gets big, but I actually dig his acting before then. It's subtle. 

Somebody is gonna be famous...

I know Keanu gets a lot of shit, but I still like the guy. He’s wooden and all that, but he’s always entertaining. I question his (or whomever's) choice to go with the Southern accent (didn’t he learn anything from Dracula?), but what the hell. He’s plays a good lawyer and he really shows all those temptations without a need for dialogue. Granted, most of those temptations come from the many nude women in the film, but still…he has some nice, small touches. The same goes for Theron, part Rosemary’s Baby and part My Cousin Vinny (ok, maybe not). Oh, and she gets naked. 

And a brief spoiler, I nearly forgot about semi-dream sequence ending, and I dig it. Sure, freewill won out at the end as Keanu (upon losing everything) sacrifices himself to play prevent defense against the antichrist. He loses, of course, because the devil will always try to find a way to win. That’s a downer of an ending. As Pacino says, “I only set the stage. You pull your own strings.”

Slicked back hair = Devil.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Well…when a movie is OVER the top…it can be a bit much. Things end up a bit cheeseball as everything in the final act is EXTREME. Even the dialogue gets silly like that exchange when Keanu asks his name: “Satan?” “Call me dad.”

While the movie has a good pace, things do get slow in spots and it sure as hell didn’t need a 2:20 runtime. It's strange to say, but this is an overall enjoyable movie (even with the dark themes) minus poor Charlize going nutty. Obviously her downfall exists to create conflict and show Lomax's shitty choices as well as how dark the devil’s business can be, but damn...it’s a bummer. There’s also quite a bit of filler too. I don’t know how much of Craig T. Nelson and most of poor Principal Rooney’s scenes were needed. Most ended up feeling unnecessary.

THE VERDICT: Thanks to Pacino and Reeves (and a naked Theron), Devil’s Advocate remains a hellva an entertaining film. A classic? No. Either of their top pictures? No. But it’s one of those flicks that'll end up on both actors greatest hits. And there’s nothing wrong with that.




Don't think so hard, buddy. 



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