Monday, October 31, 2011

The Month of Terror FINALE: The Devil's Advocate (1997)

Director: Taylor Hackford
Starring: Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron

“I'm here on the ground with my nose in it since the whole thing began. I've nurtured every sensation man's been inspired to have. I cared about what he wanted and I never judged him. Why? Because I never rejected him. In spite of all his imperfections, I'm a fan of man! I'm a humanist. Maybe the last humanist.”
-Milton

This isn’t so much a straight-up horror movie in the traditional sense, but I thought it appropriate to review anyway, because really, how can you have Halloween without the lord of all darkness himself in the mix? You can’t. So let’s dig right into the Al Pacino classic The Devil’s Advocate.

This is a very big, sprawling film that reminds me of something like a John Grisham novel by way of Rosemary’s Baby or maybe Angel Heart or something. It’s a classic, slow-burning tale of getting what you wish for, of messing with things you can’t comprehend and of the temptations to evil that people in power straddle the line of so dearly. Keanu Reeves stars as Kevin Lomax, a hot shot lawyer who gets a chance to come to New York and defend high profile clients. He has a hot wife (Charlize Theron) and a doting Christian mother (Judith Ivey). His boss is Milton (Al Pacino), a wily, slick and egregious old fox who seems to have everything under control…but when things go wrong, who is really to blame?

Really this is a great movie for its huge epic scope. It pays a lot of attention to detail and builds every scene off the one before it, allowing for a real sense of completion once it ends. Each scene adds to the story, and the arc of the characters is nice and palpable. The scares are blended in seamlessly so they actually surprise you when they show up – the movie is so low-key that you don’t expect to see a nasty, Satanic face jeering at you out of a mirror or something, but then it does show up, and it works. There are no cheap thrills here or pandering moments at all; you just get a good, solid story unfolding over a long run-time – long enough, perhaps, to really dig into it.

Cinematography is excellent; check out the scene where Reeves and Pacino are standing on the odd water-top roof at the beginning, or when Reeves walks out into the street at the end to go confront Pacino, with the buildings framing him and the wind howling. Not to mention the numerous awesome, fiery shots in the climax. All of these shots really add to the overall effect of the film, like icing on the cake. Excellent stuff.

The acting is OK, with Pacino probably doing the best job. He just seems to be having so much fun that you can’t deny him at all. He’s constantly got this carefree smile on his face and this merry twinkle in his eyes, and his lines are just excellent. “In spite of all his flaws I’M A FAN OF MAN!” Great stuff. Reeves does a pretty decent job for his standards, although for the most part he’s still pretty goofy. But he does get better later on, and when the movie really calls for it, he delivers OK. Theron is decent too, although sometimes she gets a bit too over the top too fast – if she’s really that much of a spaz, the movie should’ve built it up more that way. It just seems like she loses it too quickly into the film.

And I’m gonna talk about Theron’s character for a bit now. Her arc is actually one of the more interesting ones in here – sort of a reverse Rosemary’s Baby situation, where she buckles to the pressure much faster than the heroine of that film did, and the focus is not on her but on Reeves instead. We never get to see her worst moments – we only see her telling us about what happened for the most part. One of the best scenes in the film is with her and Reeves in the church when she tells him about her afternoon rendezvous with Milton. “He was with me in court ALL AFTERNOON,” Reeves shouts – and then she reveals the bloody scars on her body…

The other main talking point of the film is Milton and Reeves spouting off at the end. It’s got great cinematography, some excellent special effects and of course the awesome dialogue between the two, which touches on many religious subjects I’m sure will piss some people off. But they’re really quite well done for a theatrical effect, which is really all I’m looking for with this, just theatrical, big and epic fun. Both actors really go at it, give it their all, and hey, you even get some naked chicks and moving statues and such to boot. I’m not going to spoil too much of this scene – go see it for yourself.

In fact, go see the whole movie. This is just awesome. It’s not the most groundbreaking ever and it won’t really change your perspective on its genre, but The Devil’s Advocate is a ton of fun to watch, and kept me hooked for a solid 2.5 hours with its sleek visual hooks, snappy dialogue and clever pacing. I couldn’t turn it off. It might not be as artful as Near Dark or as depraved as Session 9, but it is a great, hammering beast of a film that will entertain and captivate. And that’s all I really need sometimes. Happy Halloween.