Film Reviews:

Devil's Advocate

(Taylor Hackford, US, 1997)

I first caught this film at a multiplex when the film I originally went to see was sold out. I'd seen the trailers on TV and thought it looked decidedly naff. So I sloped into the cinema with very low expectations of this film and was amazed to come out of it afterwards very impressed by the whole thing. Keanu Reeves plays Kevin Lomax, whose remarkable record as a small town defence attorney who has never lost a case catches the watchful eye of John Milton (Al Pacino), boss of a big-shot international New York firm. Taking up the job offer of a lifetime, Lomax and his girlfriend Mary-Ann move to New York and Kevin begins work for his new employer. At first, the mega wage packet, amazing apartment with its Manhattan skyline window views, and the heady NYC lifestyle seduce the young country couple. But as Kevin is drawn more and more into his work, Mary-Ann begins having hallucinations, tensions at the firm become strained over Kevin's appointment and the more we see of John Milton the more we are concerned that he has a very specific motive for employing young Kevin.

What starts out masquerading as a well-acted, well-directed drama-come-thriller suddenly mutates in the final quarter of the 138 minute running time into full-on horror. You see, Milton happens to be the Devil. Now I know if you didn't know that before reading this review you might feel pissed at me dropping in that important plot detail not mentioned on the video case blurb. However, the title is something of a pointer (don't think about it too long!) and the advertising campaign left little to the imagination. Nevertheless, knowing this won't spoil your enjoyment at all. This is a terrific film with a neat script, great directing and some impressive performances. Pacino is on killer form - his character dominates every second he's on screen and Keanu Reeves gives one of his career-best performances even if he is a little too emphatic at times. Director Taylor Hackford (who did an equally good job on the similarly dark-at-heart Dolores Claiborne) has created something that on the face of it (and for the first hour or so) looks and feels like a quality Hollywood drama. But ever so slowly he gives us fleeting glimpses of the horrors to come. A changing room sequence when Mary-Ann believes she sees the faces and groping hands of demons inside the other women trying on new clothes in their underwear is very creepy indeed. Timelapse cityscape photography increasingly links scenes, and an eerie moment when Kevin walks into the street in the middle of a New York afternoon and not a soul can be seen - the wind blowing waste paper as far as the eye can see - is one of the most impressive apocalyptic images to come out of Hollywood in recent years. There are several moments like this before the film goes into horror overdrive and I couldn't help but think of a similar approach used by Adrian Lyne for Jacob's Ladder.

Some might find the deliberately OTT final half-hour just too much, but personally I loved it. The impressive photography and stunning visuals (especially during the finale) loose an awful lot on the small screen, but otherwise this comes highly recommended for those patient enough and appreciative enough to enjoy the well-crafted and underplayed but gripping build up.

Rob Dyer

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