The Devil's Advocate (film)

The Devil's Advocate

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by Anne Kopelson
Arnold Kopelson
Arnon Milchan
Screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin
Tony Gilroy
Based on The novel by Andrew Neiderman
Starring Keanu Reeves
Al Pacino
Charlize Theron
Jeffrey Jones
Judith Ivey
Connie Nielsen
Craig T. Nelson
Tamara Tunie
Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Debra Monk
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Editing by Mark Warner
Studio Regency Enterprises
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date(s) October 17, 1997 (1997-10-17)
Running time 144 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $57 million
Box office $152,944,660[1]

The Devil's Advocate (marketed as Devil's Advocate) is a 1997 American horror film directed by Taylor Hackford starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron, and based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman.

The film's title is a reference to the common phrase "devil's advocate", and Pacino's character is named after the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton.[2] The movie has some minor allusions to Milton's epic, such as the famous quotation "Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven".



Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), a defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, has never lost a case. He defends a schoolteacher, Mr. Gettys (Chris Bauer), against a charge of child molestation. During the trial, Kevin realizes that his client is guilty, and a reporter tells him that a guilty verdict is all but inevitable. However, through a harsh cross-examination Kevin destroys the credibility of the victim (Heather Matarazzo) and secures another not guilty verdict.

As he celebrates, Kevin is approached by a representative of the New York law firm Milton, Chadwick & Waters, who offers him a large sum of money to help the firm with a jury selection. After Kevin's jury delivers a not guilty verdict, John Milton (Al Pacino) offers him a large salary and a swanky apartment if he joins the firm. Despite warnings from his Evangelical Christian mother, Alice (Judith Ivey), about sinful big city life, Kevin accepts the job and moves with his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) to Manhattan.

Kevin first defends a Voodoo sorcerer (Delroy Lindo) who ritually sacrificed an animal. He compares the incident to kashrut law and claims that his client is protected under freedom of religion, winning the case. Kevin spends an increasing amount of time at work, leaving Mary Ann feeling isolated.

Kevin next defends Alexander Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), a billionaire accused of murdering his wife and child. This case demands more of Kevin's time, further separating him from Mary Ann. He begins having fantasies about co-worker Christabella Andreoli (Connie Nielsen), while Mary Ann shows signs of mental illness. Milton suggests that Kevin step down from the trial, but Kevin refuses.

Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones), the firm's managing attorney, is convinced that Kevin is competing for his job after finding his name in the company papers as a partner. Although Kevin denies any knowledge, Barzoon threatens to inform the United States Attorney's office about the situation. Kevin tells Milton about Barzoon's threats, but Milton is unconcerned, sarcastically dismissing Barzoon as "God's special little creature". At that moment, Barzoon is beaten to death by vagrants, who take on demonic appearances. Mary Ann witnesses this, further eroding her sanity.

While preparing Cullen's mistress Melissa (Laura Harrington) to testify about Cullen's alibi, Kevin realizes she is lying and tells Milton he believes Cullen is guilty. Milton offers to back Kevin regardless. Kevin decides to proceed with her testimony and wins an acquittal.

After the trial Kevin finds Mary Ann in a nearby church, naked and covered with cuts. She tells her husband that Milton raped and mutilated her, but Kevin saw Milton in court with him at the time of the alleged attack; he believes that Mary Ann injured herself, and has her committed.

Kevin is approached by U.S. Attorney Weaver with knowledge of the law firm's illegal activities. Although Kevin tries walking away, he stops when Weaver tells him that Gettys was found with a dead girl in his car trunk. Following Kevin, Weaver walks into the street and is run over by a car.

Alice and Pam (Debra Monk), Kevin's case manager at the firm, visit Mary Ann. Alone with Mary Ann, Pam appears as a demon through a mirror. Mary Ann attacks Pam with the mirror and locks herself in the room. As Kevin tries to break down the door, Mary Ann takes a piece of broken glass from the mirror and cuts her throat with it, killing herself.

Before he can mourn, Alice reveals that Milton is Kevin's father. Kevin leaves the hospital to confront Milton, who gleefully admits to raping Mary Ann. Kevin fires a pistol into Milton's chest, but the bullets have no effect. Kevin realizes that Milton is not only his father, but also Satan himself.

The theme of personal responsibility pervades the movie, and dialogue where Milton gives Kevin the opportunity to leave the Cullen case to care for his wife is particularly striking. Kevin blames Satan for everything that happened, but Satan explains that he merely "set the stage", and that Kevin could have left at any time. Kevin realizes that he always wanted to win, no matter the cost, and left Mary Ann behind. The problem of lawyers perpetrating injustice by allowing guilty people to escape punishment is a continuing theme. The lawyer is happy to help a murderer escape but sees the injustice when his own wife is raped during the trial.

Satan explains that he wants Kevin and Christabella, who is Kevin's half-sister, to conceive a child: the Antichrist. He offers Kevin anything that he wants. Kevin cites free will and shoots himself in the head, ruining Satan's plan.

Kevin wakes up during the recess of the Gettys trial. After embracing Mary Ann, Kevin announces that he can no longer represent his client, despite the threat of being disbarred. A reporter follows Kevin and Mary Ann, pleading for an interview and promising to make Kevin a star. After some prodding from Mary Ann, Kevin reluctantly agrees. After Kevin and Mary Ann leave, the reporter shapeshifts into a grinning Milton. Breaking the fourth wall, he says, "Vanity — definitely my favorite sin."



The Devil's Advocate received generally favorable reviews and holds a 65% rating in Rotten Tomatoes.[3] Critic James Berardinelli wrote that the film "is a highly enjoyable motion picture that's part character study, part supernatural thriller, and part morality play".[4] In contrast, Roger Ebert wrote, "The movie never fully engaged me; my mind raced ahead of the plot, and the John Grisham stuff clashed with the Exorcist stuff." It also holds a rating of 60 on Metacritic.[5]

Box office performance

The Devil's Advocate earned $12,170,536 during its opening weekend in the United States[6] finishing second in the box office. It ended with a total domestic gross of $60,944,660, and $92,000,000 internationally.[7]

Legal problems

The film was the subject of legal action following its release. The claim was that the sculpture featuring human forms in John Milton's apartment closely resembled the Ex nihilo sculpture by Frederick Hart on the facade of the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and that a scene involving the sculpture infringed Hart's rights under copyright law.[8] After a federal judge ruled that the film's video release would be delayed until the case went to trial unless a settlement was reached, Warner Bros. agreed to edit the scene for future releases and to attach stickers to unedited videotapes to indicate there was no relation between the sculpture in the film and Hart's work.[9]

The movie was filmed in part at the Bergen County Superior Court and practitioners would recognize scenes at the third floor rotunda.


External links

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