Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Guilty of a crime? Call 1-800-LOMAX

We have a specific representation in our minds of detecting the Devil and his minions. Psychologically it makes it easier to where a "bad guy" is seen just as that. The film has some demonic imagery but mostly breaks those molds that come with red skin and horns, to creature-esque wood cuts and Gustave Dore paintings, to here with the Prince of Darkness hiding amongst us in the modern day in a position of power. Old Nick walking around in human form makes him that much more effective in manipulating us into believing he's just a man of earthly status and, of course, with a following (legion) behind him. Because where would he be without people to use, a deep sea fisherman off to solitude? Not likely.

This was released back in October of '97 in a month where straight horror films are usually placed. Though this brings back an old thriller feeling from the '60s/'70s with a gradual pacing, absence of technology, orchestral music and a concentration on characters rather than flashy filmmaking techniques. Watching this back in the late '90s and now doesn't make it feel aged, as there's nothing directly reminiscent of the year it came out with the exception of the new millennium approaching and paranoia on the rise. Hence films such as "Stigmata," "Fallen," "End of Days" and even on TV with "Millennium."

Kevin Lomax (Reeves) is a defense attorney in small town Florida who represents a teacher that's accused of inappropriately touching a teenage girl after class. It looks like a bust as the girl is testifying with such conviction and the teacher is sweating from the palms. Lomax takes a short recess. He's made an unbeatable string of wins in the courtroom and doesn't want to let this one go despite morals and doing what's right eating at his conscience. After some snide remarks from a reporter, he's back in with a devilish grin and a persuasive defense. In the after party, Lomax is approached by a man with a proposition to go to New York to select a jury with the incentive of a large sum of cash that he can't pass up. His devoutly religious mother, who was a preacher's daughter, gives him some advice that he's heard before: "Let me tell you about New York. Fallen, fallen, is Babylon the great. It has become a dwelling place of demons." Off he goes anyway with his wild and ecstatic wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron).

The hot shot lawyer has an unstoppable combination: he's got the sharp looks and an acute intuition about reading people. They gradually give him more and more responsibility, while the head of the firm named John Milton (Al Pacino) keeps a close eye on him. Pacino captures the frame every time he enters as a charming man who you're never too sure about his motives. Lomax is brought on as a criminal lawyer and offered substantial perks that only partners usually get. What at first looks to be a premise for a John Grisham novel takes a shadowier turn. They don't represent people because it's just or that they can truly help them get out of a misunderstanding, they do it for capital and connections to make their business even larger, like a weed that grows, intertwines and infiltrates all that come in contact.

A deceptive world is set up with grinning, posturing, money-centered people that offer temptations at every turn. His wife gets sucked into the riches and power, but is a little more gullible from the simple life she had back home. She's bored and lonely as her husband's job comes first and foremost. Though she starts to see something truly dark: an invisible aura that gives off unexplainable bad vibes. Her husband says it's the change but he's too busy to put all of his attention towards her, including getting the opportunity to work on a huge case that represents an extremely wealthy client. From thinking he's on an uphill battle, he's got to fend his way back down again when his wife is in danger and some revelations come out about who all these people really are around him.

"The Devil's Advocate" goes to show how often we look the other way. In the smaller scheme of things we compensate to do something that either goes against how we were raised or what we truly feel underneath from other perks and okays from higher ups and friends. There's a sort of tainted philosophy here that even cult leader Jim Jones used in the Peoples Temple. He would overwork his followers, making them have less time to think, and then control their income on top of that. Jones would set up living quarters that even included their families to where he could keep an eye on them. Every egg in that person's basket was invested in their leader without them necessarily noticing it. The question is where is he going to lead them? If a few things thought to be wrong happen, does that person look the other way because other aspects look so good? If they take the chance of speaking up, all of those things worked for that seem important can be taken away and then a fear of being ostracized from the group happens as well. This doesn't come with the physical abuse and forced actions, as the Devil is physically in front of said person but essentially the Devil is in ourselves as he just gives advice--very convincing advice that's as old as the idea of picking apples. This is a story that shows even wily lawyers might have limits beyond temptations.

What made this movie come together and be more than just a supernatural tale going for spooks and scares, were the performances. Yeah, Reeves' southern drawl comes and goes but he's got the look and feel of a cocky lawyer down to his tailored suit and slicked hair. His court room appearances, while including poetic license, also capture just how much of a sneaky wordsmith his character is capable of being. Not to mention he's capable of stepping up in the stages he goes through. From "The Godfather" to "Scarface" Pacino performs as a born leader. Instead of just delivering a single tone or playing it reserved with a certain look, he gives the role versatile flair with an amount of humorous irony in his phrases and added mystery that you can't always put your finger on despite having a share of dialogue. "I'm a surprise... They don't see me coming." There's a built up heated debate in the film that just shows you how he crafts each one of his deceptive words to nearly make you believe in them yourself. The film comes with a certain atmosphere that doesn't have shocking blood and guts of a normal horror film, but it's still effective in that it gives off an uncomfortable feeling in trapped scenarios it presents the deeper it sucks you in.

Rating: 8.5/10

Director: Taylor Hackford (Blood In, Blood Out, Dolores Claiborne)
Stars: Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, Al Pacino, Jeffrey Jones, Craig T. Nelson
Link: IMDB

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