Published Mar 05, 2013It's odd that throughout the '90s, the introspective indie drama was popular alongside some of the smuttiest, trashiest, camp thrillers ever made. It was a decade of quiet introspection and hedonistic indulgence, dissecting human sexuality and perverse instincts in a post-conservative landscape, free from the culturally dominant superficiality and traditional sexism of the '80s.
The Devil's Advocate was a little late to the game and save a couple of full-frontal bird shots from Charlize Theron and Connie Nielsen—along with a little incest subplot—it was a relatively tame entry into the mainstream thriller canon. Even its subtext, of which there was aplenty in the '90s, was more overt than most films, comparing obscured legal morality to sinning within the lexicon of Judeo-Christian ethos.
More succinctly, this sleazy thriller about hotshot lawyer Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) moving into the big leagues with the hyper-successful John Milton (Al Pacino), after getting a paedophile off on molestation charges, points out that lawyers are ethically ambiguous sociopaths. Their disposition of twisting words, situations and ideas to suit a financial bottom line is compared mainly with vanity here, as pointed out quite matter-of-factly, to the camera, by John Milton, the devil himself.
Of interest, more so than Kevin Lomax's preoccupation with defending serial killers and rapists for validation and remuneration, is the gradual mental deterioration of his wife Mary Ann (Theron). While her twitchy performance is, at times, a tad amusing—though still leaps and bounds beyond Reeves' blank Neo-infused lawyer—the handling of female intuition is at least a slight nod in a direction that suggests the casual nudity and tendency to develop every female character as either a shrew or a demon (angel or slut), is more thematically relevant than blatantly misogynist. She, unlike him, is able to see the evil in the law firm and its employees and is trapped in the banality of domesticity while her husband is off working to achieve a level of success not required for their lifestyle.
There isn't a great deal to read into here beyond this, even if the final twist of the movie suggests that even saints are prone to vanity, but the glossy sheen over what is ostensibly overacted garbage makes for a fun diversion. And where else are you going to see a Jesus-inspired Al Pacino/Keanu Reeves digital mash-up?
The Devil's Advocate screens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of the Whoa: The Films of Keanu Reeves retrospective at 9:15pm on March 8th, 2013. It will be preceded by a video introduction from Reeves himself. (Warner)