Movie #39 2021: The Devil’s Advocate (1997)

You may recall me lauding Viola Davis as my favourite actress in the review for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Well, if Davis is my favourite actress, then Mr. Al Pacino is certainly her male counterpart on my favourites list.

The Devil’s Advocate is one of Pacino’s less renowned movies, but that could never put me off. Let’s face it: his worse is still generally quite good. The film follows a hotshot lawyer from Florida named Kevin Lomax (Keane Reeves), who has never lost a single case in his life. When he is offered a case in New York, he quickly accepts, taking his wife Mary Ann along with him. After proving to be such a success, the NY law firm offer him a permanent position there, complete with complimentary housing arrangements as paid for by his boss, John Milton (Pacino). Sounds like the perfect life, right? Wrong. It becomes quickly apparent that something is off about Milton, and strange occurrences begin to happen in front of Lomax’s eyes.

As you’ll be aware, I came here for Al Pacino and was gifted with the bonus prize of an early Charlize Theron and… is that Delroy Lindo lurking in the shadows?! I’ll take it, thank you and goodnight. In all seriousness, I had no idea about the supporting cast beforehand, so it was brilliant to see both of the aforementioned here. Lindo, in fact, only has a very small role that he wasn’t even credited for, but still manages to make a real impression in such a short matter of time.

Phenomenal casting aside, this film’s subject matter is what I’d call “right up my alley”. Courtroom drama is never not fascinating, but a courtroom drama with a supernatural twist? Sounds hokey… and brilliant. (Don’t Google this film unless you want to be spoiled – the majority of plot breakdowns include details of the twist itself.) It’s definitely too long, I really didn’t care too much for Theron’s mental breakdown storyline (even though she acts the hell out of it) and I certainly didn’t care for Keanu’s hairy nipples, but it’s definitely attention-grabbing for the most part. 

What I didn’t expect was to be so wowed by the cinematography. Barring a couple of real dodgy looking ‘rooftop’ green screens, there are some gorgeous symmetrical shots and perfect lighting that is so mood-intensifying. And those sets? Sinister, yet really chic and scene-setting.

It seems like The Devil’s Advocate is a bit of a Marmite movie – some people love it, and some people are boring. For me, it managed to present an interesting, original allegory for good vs evil and the moral ambiguity in the US justice system, with snappy dialogue and great performances. What’s not to like about that?!

Pacino standing in front of the flames of the fireplace when his secret comes to light is the best frame of the entire movie. And his performance? You won’t be surprised to hear that he knocks it out of the God damn park. He’s the perfect, unhinged villain here.

Overall, this movie is completely underrated. Yes, it’s really fucking long, but I was not bored for one second. The ending will split opinions no doubt, but it wrapped it all up in a neat bow for me.

See for yourself…

The Devil’s Advocate is available to stream on Sky Cinema and Now TV in the UK.

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Rating: ½

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