The Devil’s Advocate (1997) – Taylor Hackford

The final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book for my screening of La Belle et La Bete is this 1997 legal thriller with supernatural overtones that lets Keanu Reeves take on a scene-chewing Al Pacino.

Charlize Theron co-stars as Reeves’ wife Mary Ann, while Keanu plays Kevin Lomax, a not very humble, southern Florida lawyer who hasn’t lost a case yet, no matter if his client is guilty or not. His latest performance catches the eye of a New York firm overseen by the oh-co-cleverly-named John Milton (Pacino).

He’s wooed by Milton’s firm, and runs into temptation everywhere, before he realises that his very soul may be in jeopardy.

I saw this one when it first came out, and don’t think I enjoyed it very much. So, here I am twenty years later, and wondering if I will like it this time around.

Rounded out with a fantastic supporting cast including Jeffrey Jones, Connie Nielsen, Craig T. Nelson, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Monica Keena the film actually kept me quite engaged and entertained.

Mary Ann languishes in their gorgeous apartment, and is slowly growing more and more angry with her husband’s behaviour and career. On top of that, she’s beginning to see things, horrible things. Meanwhile Kevin is drawn closer and closer to the bosom of Milton and all the temptations that includes.

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Doubt is sowed in both the lives of Kevin and Mary Ann, though Kevin tends to be blinded by the glamour and seduction that seems to surround Milton. As Kevin takes on a high profile murder case things in his personal life begin to unravel, making Milton’s seduction of the prideful lawyer that much easier.

Some of the visual effects at play, even just the ‘views’ from some of the New York apartments are blatantly, are actually pretty horrible, even for the time. Happily, most of the performances can distract from some of the shoddier effects. The climax, sadly, has a lot of goofy effects that definitely detract from what is playing out, and are meant to convey more than they can, but Pacino keeps things on track.

Pacino is in fine form here, shredding the scenery and owning every moment with his fiery delivery and appropriately devilish eyes. Theron, in turn, becomes increasingly unhinged by the things that are happening to her, the things she’s seeing, and the dreams she’s having, all of it designed to push Mary Ann away from Kevin.

And of course, the terrifying truth is that Mary Ann isn’t becoming unhinged, she’s simply seeing things as they are, and that revelation is beyond scary.

I really enjoyed it this time around. I loved how the film walked the tenuous line between legal thriller and supernatural horror, and the only reason it succeeds is on the strength of the performances, which are really enjoyable.

The story itself is predictable and plays out exactly as you figure it must, but is sure is a fun ride!

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