Devil in the courtroom
By Jeremy Schneider
Those who make a practice of comparing human actions to the law are never so perplexed as when they try to defend those in obvious guilt. It is this frame of emotion explored in the screen adaptation of Andrew Neiderman's novel The Devil's Advocate. With Al Pacino fresh off the heels of the very successful Donnie Brasco, he takes on his most sinister role in recent memory. By the wind of chance Keanu Reeves scored the opportunity to act with a master.
With Taylor Hackford calling the shots and Jon Lemkin supplying the dialogue, the movie makes an all-out assault on the viewer's code of ethics. Reeves plays Florida defence attorney Kevin Lomax who is arguing his way into setting a paedophile back out on the streets. His slick performance does not go unnoticed by John Milton (Pacino), the head of a large New York firm. Lomax and his wife Marianne think they have got it made when they see the new apartment the firm puts up as ante.
And the deal goes down, as the poet wrote. The young lawyer puts the hopes and dreams of the couple into the welcoming arms of the smooth-talking Milton. He agrees to the invitation, but is unaware of the peculiarities it entails.
As the two lawyers ride the subway to work, Milton tells Lomax that good looks can be a weakness. The key to success, Milton says, is being the small guy, the surprise, so they never see you coming.
Pacino's performance puts the audience in a constant state of turmoil. Through Milton, Pacino creates a character being beaten by his own narcissistic trauma. Cascading the backdrop of his spacious office is a stone sculpture of the Apocalypse which comes alive as the movie goes haywire.
It is not anger which prompts Milton's mercenary drives. He seems to have a half wilful over-ruling morbidness at the bottom of his nature. Milton's monomania represents American leadership as a possessive individualized entity that turns everything into an object of prey.
After touring the countryside like a warrior with his band Dogstar, Reeves turns in an admirable performance.
In an obvious metaphor, Milton plays the foe who has risen up from the underground in anticipation of the millennium. Why choose men of law as his henchmen? Sheer numbers. There are more kids in law school right now than there are actual lawyers. A tyrannical leader like Milton will exploit their needs and fears and play upon their social fragmentation in order to gain powerful leadership. The movie depicts criminal law as a one-way ticket to hell and the viewer must approach its darkness with humour or won't be sleeping well for awhile.