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Wednesday, October 22, 1997

Devil's Advocate

Posted By on Wed, Oct 22, 1997 at 12:00 AM

So far in his career, poor Al Pacino has developed to actually transcend typecasting. Having matured in film and on the stage into a venerable but peppery persona, he has, for the most part, outpaced the legacy of Michael Corleone, the classic role he rode to prestige in Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather series.

Still, the glut of Pacino's parts nowadays simply and consistently revive Crazy Al: a singular, brooding figure who is quite prone to shouting spells whenever conflict mounts, or it's time for another Academy Award. Devil's Advocate gives Crazy Al an especially brooding and malevolent persona.

Audiences won't want to take the position suggested by this film's title, when law firm head John Milton (Pacino) takes an interest in Florida defense attorney Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves). Kevin is a charismatic and soulless lawyer who has never lost a case. He even has the gall, while defending an accused child molester and knowing his client is guilty, to browbeat a teenage girl, shaking her demeanor enough to convince a jury and win the case.

The night of Kevin's celebration he is summoned to New York City with a check from Milton's powerful firm. The rural hotshot hits the Big Apple and what a spectacle it is. Director Taylor Hackford shows the city as an animated, Mephistophelian center through slick, sped-up shots of the skyline at sunset, its roiling clouds conveying rising danger. Kevin meets the intriguing Milton and is offered a job. He takes the bait and the film's fun begins.

Through Advocate's computer special effects and technical tricks, Hackford creates an aura of surreal menace only slightly diminished by the joy Pacino has with his part. Part of the film's fun comes unfortunately through Hackford's use of nonwhite players to symbolize a suspicious "demonic" presence.

Otherwise, as it becomes clear to Kevin that everyone at Milton, Chadwick, Waters has sold their souls and he must make a difficult choice, Devil's Advocate cooks to a very entertaining crescendo. Good and evil have a go at it, and despite Crazy Al's ham-handed, overlong finale performance and an unnecessary twist ending, Taylor Hackford turns this novel adaptation into a meaningful and trenchant modern parable.

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