I am here to testify that if you've only witnessed The Devil's Advocate on TNT, your soul is unclean. Until you have witnessed the holy incestuous orgies and drunk of the sacred monologue spittle of Al Pacino, you will not be saved from the mundaneness of modern-day cinema. Come with me and I will make you a believer.
This 1997 picture succeeds for so many reasons, and not just because of Pacino's nomination-worthy ranting and habitual mid-dialogue lip-licking. The rest of the cast is fantastic as well. And oh my god, the script.
The movie is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Andrew Neiderman. Super loosely — from the 10 minutes I spent skimming the original work, main character Kevin actually kills the devil in the end, not himself (spoilers!) and is promptly convicted of murder and sent to jail forever. But it's the language that sets this film apart, the glorious, over-the-top, no-one-talks-like-that-but-you-buy-what-the-devil-is-selling one-liners. For example: "Guilt is like a bag of fuckin' bricks. All ya gotta do is set it down." That's 100% totally something you could do... but you probably shouldn't, if you don't want to become a complete soulless monster.
Part of me feels like, when the writers sat down to put pen to paper, they weren't interested in the plot so much as seeing exactly how many lines they could provide Pacino so he could slowly crescendo into a raving, red-faced Dark Lord, but still convince the audience that they want to go to boxing matches with him and watch him get blowies under a restaurant table (a real scene that happens in this movie). Every line he has is a gem — even the one about how he once had sex with a woman and she was shocked it was him, because look at him. And that's power:
"There's this beautiful girl just fucked me forty ways from Sunday... we're done, she's walking to the bathroom, she's trying to walk, she turns... she looks... it's me. Not the Trojan army just fucked her. Little ol' me. She has this look on her face like: "How the hell did that happen?"
Each line has a horrible, horrible lesson that you really want to learn.
Then there's the cast — all great, all over the top, all pretty perfect, especially Keanu Reeves.
Keanu plays Kevin Lomax, the ego-driven defense attorney from Gainesville, Florida, who, get this, has NEVER LOST A CASE. That fact drives this Southern-accented, khaki-suited maniac to make a series of truly bad judgment calls. In fact, the film opens in court with Kevin shaming the victim of a pedophile (his client) to tears just so he doesn't have a mark on his perfect record. (This, despite Kevin's knowledge that his client is garbage. No seriously, his client mimes fingering the table in front of Kevin while his victim rehashes her horrors. It's dry-heave-worthy).
Kevin's victory is consecrated with shots and a night of sinful pelvic dancing with his gorgeous wife Mary Ann Lomax (played by Charlize Theron). This will be the last time you see this character happy (this will also be the last time you see Keanu's '90s wire-framed glasses).
Even though The Devil's Advocate was advertised with copious pictures of Keanu and Pacino "Daddy and Me"-style, the real heart of this movie is all Theron. She is put through the fucking wringer through the whole movie and after my 5th viewing this week, I can honestly say that the shit that happens to her would have driven me completely insane as well. But more on that later.
Whilst Gainesville is celebratin' its moral degradation, the husband and wife are approached with an offer they can't refuse: a big New York City law firm wants Kevin to come work them them. First class tickets (naturally) are presented and away they go to meet devil Al Pacino. This is not a spoiler because the movie stars Al Pacino and is called The Devil's Advocate. You don't cast Pacino in a devil movie and not make him the devil. That's just science.
Also, if there was any doubt as to Pacino's character's true identity, he is helpfully named John Milton, after the author of Paradise Lost.
So the two country mice head to the big city and right into the arms of the devil, because money is awesome.
This is where things start to get pretty great for Kevin and not-so-great for Mary Ann. Most folks remember the big bombastic finale of The Devil's Advocate (and it is indeed a collection of what-the-fuckery with a heaping helping of breasts and unexpected suicide). However, the most insidious moments of evil aren't the bathed-in-blood offerings to Satan. No, it's watching Mary Ann get mean girl-ed by her new "friends" to the point of actual insanity.
Take this scene, for instance. The anxiety of decorating a new home, whilst impressing her new friends whom she frankly doesn't even care about, makes my skin crawl.
And it doesn't stop: the incessant needling, the brutal off-handed quips chip away at Mary Anne's state of mind.
The next thing you know, Mary Ann's practically sitting in the lap of the devil. And what does he tell her? YOU SHOULD CUT YOUR HAIR.
This is maniacal. Yeah, yeah, it's all surface, but if you've ever been on the bad end of a rash hair decision, you know it's enough to bring out the worst in us all. Like calling your mom even though you're a grown-ass 33-year-old human woman, and taking selfies of the back of your head while crying because, "Who even is this person anymore?" This is truly dark evil and it made me squirm to watch her play into their hands so easily.
So it's only a matter of time (and one bad haircut) before Mary Ann teeters over the edge. All her bitchy friends have to do is suggest she get her breasts done, while demon-smiling.
Truly, the road to Hell is paved with catty bitches.
Mary Ann goes absolutely nuts and winds up naked in a church accusing Milton of raping her. This is most likely the scene you forget because you watched this movie on basic cable. The reveal is horrible: Mary Ann is found covered head to toe in cuts and bruises. It's brutal. Obviously, no one believes her but instead tell her that maybe she should comb her hair and be pretty. And in a strange tribute to the sin that is vanity, she winds up slicing her own neck with a shattered handheld mirror.
Before things go tits up for Kevin (which is an apt expression for this movie, because it has so much topless female nudity in it; Pacino/Satan even has a moving wall in his office to supply the room with even more boobs, should there be a need for more them. Apparently there's always a need), he finds success getting off a murderer, played by Craig T. Nelson. It's a case that Kevin believes to be fairly innocuous, until it all comes down to a question of the alleged mistress knowing if the person of interest was circumcised or not. She didn't, thus proving her story and his alibi to be a big fat fucking lie. OF COURSE this movie ends the big case on a dick joke.
Eventually, the curtain pulls back and the devil shows his face.
Cue the monologing!
While I insist that Mary Ann's degradation is truly the heart of this movie's evil, the end is aaaall Pacino.
Kevin meets Satan (who naturally turns out to be his father) in his office. Satan shows up wearing a pinstripe suit, dirty tuxedo shirt, a waistcoat made from a rug, and a necklace. And then he gets to chewing up the scenery.
In the long history of scenery chewing, this is truly the greatest scene ever constructed. There are no fewer than 17 lines (I counted "GOD is an ABSENTEE LANDLAWD" and so forth) that could all be cross-stitched and framed on my wall. But the best part is when Satan decides to lay into GOD with his arbitrary rules.
In reality, none of his crazy banter really makes sense, but it's made to be consumed with handfuls of popcorn. And it is delicious. So the monologue continues, revealing that the hot red head Kevin's been eyeing in the law firm is actually his own half sister. And now Pacino/Satan wants them to make him a baby. She's really into it. Pacino/Satan is really into it. How else does the sister try and get Keanu in the mood, but by posing like the crucifixion as a goof.
We got jokes.
After she strikes this pose, she says, "Who am I?" Oh god, it's all just spectacle and horror and insanity until Kevin stops it all by shooting himself in the head, while smiling. He pulls the trigger, the side of his head explodes and he's still smiling. And the movie shows it all. It's deeply troubling. BUT WAIT IT'S NOT DONE.
After this absurdity Pacino/Devil screams, briefly turns into a monster and lights his entire apartment on fire with his rage while simultaneously blasting his daughter with his demon breadth causing her to shrivel up into a mummy. BUT WAIT THAT'S NOT ALL.
Seeing that he just breadth-killed his daughter he retaliates by morphing into an angel with the face of Keanu.
Of course, in the end, it all Groundhog's Day-s itself and we're back in the Floridian courtroom ready to get the pedophile off the hook. But Kevin's learned his lesson now, and he walks away, ending the movie with his first courtroom loss. But he really didn't learn his lesson, 'cause you know vanity is definitely the devil's favorite sin.
The Devil's Advocate is fantastic. It's got more bombastic and grandious filibustering-type dialogue than anything we've seen in ages. But hell, Pacino pulls the lines off. And Keanu is just doe-eyed enough to play dumb while his wife is screaming that a baby ripped out her ovaries — and yet smart enough that you kind of think he may be a POS. The movie is unafraid to be silly with spectacle, and it worked hard to earn its gigantic reveal. Pacino spends so much time being a clever slime that you almost can't wait for the truth to come out, because by then you're kind of thinking about buying what he's selling.
And let's be real, if you're going to make a movie about the devil being the head of a powerful law firm in New York, then you can't really be afraid of things like nudity, sex, depraved acts, and improbably moving walls that are also possibly art but maybe also all the souls Pacino eats to stay up on his devil game. The Devil's Advocate, a classic.
That is all, Happy Easter! Cue the obligatory "Paint it Black" song that runs through the credits because obviously.