(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Devil’s Advocate
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: Hot-shot Southern lawyer Keanu Reeves gets recruited to join a big New York City law firm, but there’s a catch: his new boss, Al Pacino, is the devil!!!!!!!!!!
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: It’s okay to have fun with dumb movies. And The Devil’s Advocate is pretty damn dumb. Keanu Reeves uses a questionable Southern accent, Al Pacino chews the scenery so hard he’s in danger of breaking some teeth, and a pre-fame Charlize Theron is stuck in a mini Rosemary’s Baby remake, and all of this happens in the same movie. Clocking-in at an overwhelming 144 minutes, and featuring scenes where Pacino dips his fingers in holy water and causes the water to boil, The Devil’s Advocate is a blend of legal drama and horror melodrama, and it’s a hoot.
Before Keanu Reeves did The Matrix, he starred in The Devil’s Advocate, Taylor Hackford‘s epic-length horror drama about a lawyer in danger of losing his soul. Reeves is a hot-shot young attorney from Gainesville, Florida (even though his accent suggests he’s from somewhere in Alabama), who is willing to emotionally destroy a sexual assault victim on the witness stand in order to win a case. Reeves’ lapse of moral compass gets him noticed by a huge New York City law firm, and as we all know, law firms, in general, are evil, but New York City law firms are the evilest.
Soon, Reeves meets his new boss, John Milton, played by Al Pacino. Even though it’s abundantly clear that Milton is the devil incarnate, Reeves’ character remains oblivious and is easily wooed by the prospect of money and power. The same can’t be said of Reeves’ sweet-natured wife, played by Charlize Theron, who does much better with her accent. Theron’s character notices almost immediately that something is up with not just Milton but also everyone in Milton’s circle, including some of her new neighbors. She begins to have a complete breakdown, but Reeves is once again oblivious. Not only is he focused on his work, he’s also focused on one of his new coworkers, a sexy lawyer played by Connie Nielsen.
Full of sex, violence, and big special effects, The Devil’s Advocate feels like the type of movie that would never get made today, at least not by a big Hollywood studio for $57 million. Yet in 1997, the movie was a hit, raking in $153 million. Imagine that happening today. You can’t.
As much as I love Reeves, it’s fair to say he’s not very good in this movie. I don’t mean to keep harping on his accent, but it’s so distractingly bad (even worse than his infamous Dracula accent) that it almost completely sinks his performance. That’s okay, though, because the real draw here is Pacino. The Devil’s Advocate arrived in the midst of Pacino’s shouty phase. After the actor scored an Oscar for his loud performance in Scent of a Woman, Pacino seemed to believe that every performance going forward required him to YELL AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS. While some may take issue with that, it works perfectly here. Pacino’s Satanic lawyer is all about excess – he loves to talk about fucking, and he loves to laugh his ass off at stuff that really isn’t funny. And when someone dares challenge him, he sends demonic homeless people to beat that person to death.
It all culminates in a big, loud, special effects-heavy conclusion that feels like a huge cheat. But by then it’s okay, you’ve already had your fun with The Devil’s Advocate. And it’s had its fun with you.
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