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IN SHORT: Pacino on Fire.
As always, Cranky makes no comparison to Source material.
Cranky did a double take as he walked out of the sneak of Devil's Advocate, 'cuz it sure didn't feel like the two and a half hours that the ol' ticker said. It didn't feel that way 'cuz a good starting performance by Keanu Reeves was left in the dust once Al Pacino came on screen and left all the other actors in the dust.
It also left some of the subplots choking and gasping for air which, as they're not all that weighty, could have been deadly but for Pacino's dominance of the screen.
It's one thing to demonize the legal profession, 'cuz just about everyone does at one time or another. It is absolutely inspired to plant Lucifer himself, in the guise of aptly named John Milton, at the top of a firm of high powered New York attorneys. In so many roles before has Al Pacino played a Temptor, that it is apt that he fills the wings of this fallen angel. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
The Devil's Advocate begins in Gainesville Florida, as legal eagle Kevin Lomax (Reeves) saves the butt of a sweaty pig of a child molester. Whether the man is guilty or not is irrelevant to the man who has never lost a court case, ever, and refuses to believe he can. He's a big fish in a small pond. He's got a wife (Charlize Theron) who is sexy and gorgeous and madly in love with him. His mom (Judith Ivey) is neck deep in the Baptist church and, when an offer comes to aid a New York firm in a high profile case, she fears for his soul in the big city.
Reeves' Lomax is ego and ambition waiting to be unleashed, and when the temporary offer becomes a permanent job the money and the potential power of it all sweep him away. He defends a voodoo priest (Delroy Lindo) and learns that there are powers far beyond the ordinary at work in his world. He is tempted by thoughts of other women and waiting at every step of the journey is Milton, always telling him he can go back. A brutal triple murder case is on his desk, while his wife shrivels from loneliness and slowly begins to go insane.
There's a wee bit more to this particular subplot, but Cranky didn't buy it. Theron cracks up beautifully but the resolution of this part of the story is nonsense. It almost kills the film dead in its sprockets. The other subplots support and maintain what will become the final mano a mano facedown, but if you haven't bought into this particular subplot, you're not going to get sucked into the rest of the flick. It doesn't mean that you can't sit back and enjoy watching Pacino rock, 'cuz you can.
Pacino's Milton demonstrates multi-lingual ability; he doesn't seem to sleep; he has a ravenous sexual appetite and a vocabulary which emphasizes a certain four letter word that I can't print. Milton doesn't look another character in the eye unless he's offering some kind of choice (this flick's take on the classic Temptation that ol' Red is known for) or making some kind of seduction play. You know Milton must be the Devil, 'cuz he hangs with Senator Al D'Amato and Don King; he looks like nothing and nails supermodels two at a time.
All right, maybe it's cuz he's rich...
Director Taylor Hackford almost saves the back end of the flick with a pair of stunning effects shots of a deserted Manhattan. It's enough to get your focus back on Reeves' part of the story and that's good. In general, Hackford fills the film with visuals that carry the story along quietly. Good. He has always shown the ability to pull great performances from his actors and does so again (specifically Theron's, despite the subplot). Also good.
And in the penultimate scene, Pacino explains it all to us -- that's the great thing about being almost Omnipotent, you can run the same losing shtick for centuries and still boast about being able to win -- and the special effects come pouring uselessly and symbolically out of the walls. Keanu Reeves holds his own well enough that the ultimate ending is a surprise and when all was said and done, no one I spoke with after the show really cared.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for The Devil's Advocate, he would have paid . . .
You should know that in past lives Cranky has worked both for high powered New York law firms, and on Devil's Advocate director Taylor Hackford's Bound by Honor. Obviously neither has had an effect on the rating. The production design (by Bruno Rubeo) beautifully reflects the setting. High powered lawyers may be gladiators in the courtroom, but in general they're either arrogant bastards or cold fish. The Devil's Advocate accurately reflects that, and left me cold.
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