You can imagine how I felt during those last minutes of "The Devil's Advocate." Here's a sample of what was going through my mind. "What the hell (no pun intended) is going on here? . . . Okay, this is stupid. . .Bizarre. Really bizarre. Okay. . . Sure. Fine. Whatever, dude. . .WHAT?!?!?! Now I feel stupid. Sheesh. . .HUH???" Depending on how you choose to interpret the movie, it can be a winner or a loser.
Up until the part where Kevin Lomacks (aka Keanu Reeves) blows out his brains, "Devil's Advocate" is a moral story that's not quite there. We know that it's a story about the general corruption of lawyers, about sin in crime-infested New York City, about God and Satan, heaven and hell. Or something like that. See, somewhere along the story, perhaps it was during one of John Milton's (aka Al Pacino) may rambling monologues that seem to make sense that really do not, or perhaps it was during one of those annoying "gothic" scenes that we lost track of what the movie was really saying. Before you take this seriously, however, I remind you that these words come out from a 16 year old whose knowledge about the world and sin in general is pathetically shallow. The movie did not strike me as a particularly effective medium of education--I'm sure there were some scenes you just wanted to fast forward through and there were some scenes you wanted to rewind back to. Hail to the VCR. When, getting back on topic, Kevin blows his brains out, what is going through our heads? It is not, "Ah, so this is how he must pay for his sin," or, "Ah, so God triumphs after all." It is, "OH, SHIT." The scenes continues on infinitely, to a point where we almost believe we're burning in the internal fires of hell.
Then you open your eyes and see your face in the mirror. No, it's Kevin's face. You blink. He blinks. "WHAT THE. . ." As you sit there in confusion watching John Milton once again laugh like a maniac and see the credits roll, you have a sense of being cheated. A welcome sense, in my instance, for that was what saved the movie from being a mediocre film trying to look profound. It is, in the end, making fun of itself. Seeing it this way, the whole "encounter," the whole "downfall" in New York is but a warped piece of Kevin's mind, a glimpse into the psyche we're all so familiar with.
There are spectacular effects in this movie (dancing sculptures, an empty New York street), and there are some pretty funny ones (those toothy wolf grins). There are breathtaking performances--Charlize Theron ("2 Days in the Valley," "That Thing You Do") is surprisingly good, Keanu Reeves actually seems alive--and there is the over-the-top Al Pacino we've all grown so accustomed to. Pacino delivers line by line, but seeing the same tactic in movie after movie is kind of tiresome. Ah, but devilish he is. Perfect for the role. As for Reeves, I can say as a devoted fan who's seen about 20 of his movies (and one of his concerts, for that matter), that he has most definitely improved. A small step, but a step nevertheless. He is at his best when he flashes one of his toothy "I'm- Good" grins; at his worst when he's trying to master his accent and look furious at the same time.
If anything, "Devil's Advocate" knows how to play with the audience. It knows how to apply pressure, it knows when to let go. (Or in some people's cases, it knows how to tickle.) About halfway through the movie, my heart has begun its plunge into the endless abyss of darkness--the darkness that comes with knowing that this character is doomed. Some scenes (the nightmare scenes, the blurs between reality and imagination, the confrontation scenes between Kevin and Mary Anne) are so emotionally charged that I'll let the movie pass as a dark tear-jerker rather than the movie that I came to see--one that was supposed to change things. In a sense it is almost successful for the first 3/4 of the movie--if handled aptly, it could have been a well structured tale of good versus evil, temptation versus salvation. The change of pace caught me off guard, I'll admit, but not quite unhappily. But I ramble.
What lesson do we derive at the end? None, except that more lawyers need to have consciences. What have we? A beautiful, idealistic movie without something inside the shell. It does not tell us anything we do not know, it does not make a BANG! in our lives. "The Devil's Advocate" tries to do something but stops halfway. I'm not quite sure it's a bad thing.
Rating: B- (First viewing, 10/25/97)
*YKYAXPW alert! The scene in the hospital where Kevin confronts his mother about the identity of his father. DEMONS??? (Aptly named, indeed) And then there's the whole half-sister deal. Kinda Star War-ish, ain't it?