Warner Bros. // 1997 // 144 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // September 21st, 2012
The newest attorney in the world's most powerful law firm has never lost a case. But he's about to lose his soul.
In the American judicial system, it's a constitutional right that every person accused of a crime has a right to a fair and impartial trial by a jury of his or her peers. Innocent as a newborn babe or guilty as sin, everybody is equal before the law while the jury is still out. I can only assume that the spirit of the Constitution is such that the idea is that guilty men and women don't just get to have their rights tossed out and their bodies thrown in a hole. Even criminals deserve some of the basic liberties that some of the European systems at the time denied citizens -- like freedom from cruel and unusual punishment. Of course, somewhere along the way, "right to an impartial trial" became "the right to win if your lawyer is good enough" and thus was born an entire justice system where lawyers are not only required to make sure their (guilty) clients' rights aren't violated but that they're acquitted as well (if possible). It's no wonder that Satan and lawyers go hand-in-hand, from The Devil and Daniel Webster to The Devil's Advocate. Though it comes across as if a first-year seminary student wrote a John Grisham knockoff, The Devil's Advocate is a fun guilty pleasure flick that's been given fine treatment with this HD Unrated Director's Cut.
Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves, Speed) is a small-town lawyer from Florida with a perfect record. One day, he gets a job from a prestigious New York law firm, so he and his wife (Charlize Theron, Monster) pack up and head to the big city. Once he arrives, though, Kevin learns everything might not be on the up-and-up with the firm, especially its head, John Milton (Al Pacino, The Godfather).
The Devil's Advocate is pure guilty pleasure cinema. It offers only the most trite of theological messages, instead substituting a bunch of grandstanding by pretty people. The legal thriller elements are pretty good, as we see Kevin manage case after case successfully, knowing his luck will have to turn. Director Taylor Hackford keeps the two-hour-and-twenty-minute film moving by throwing subtle jumps and tense scenes into the mix at regular intervals. The film is a little bit scary, a little bit sexy, and well put together enough to make its flaws forgivable.
The real reason to watch The Devil's Advocate (aside from the nudity) is the actors. Charlize Theron was an unknown in America, but The Devil's Advocate proved that she could take on emotionally complex roles at age twenty-two. Keanu was near the height of his fame, coming off the success of films like Speed (but with The Matrix still ahead of him). He's the audience's anchor in the film, and he's charming and sympathetic. He has to be equally ruthless but loveable, and his fresh-faced look helps. Both he and Theron have to navigate "southern" accents (which as a native Floridian, I find unnecessary) -- the results are not particularly pleasant, though they don't ruin the movie. The real star of the show, though, is Pacino, essentially playing the devil. It's the role he's been moving towards since his heights of the mid-seventies. He's equal parts menace and charm. He chews through page-long speeches and sells them with the sheer histrionics of his performance. I don't know if it's great acting, but it's fun to watch.
This Blu-ray release recapitulates the previously available DVD release, this time with 2.40:1/1080p AVC-encoded video and DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio. The video transfer is wonderful. The film has a rich, dark, saturated look that makes wood grain look positively sumptuous. Colors, especially skin tones, are well-handled, and black levels are consistent and deep. Detail is strong throughout, especially in some of the outdoor footage of Manhattan. My only complaint is that sometimes during the great unveiling scene in Milton's office things can get a bit too dark, and the dodgy late-nineties CGI looks a bit too obvious. The audio track is similarly impressive. Dialogue is well-mixed, and the surround effects give a strong sense of sonic placement throughout the film (especially during its more hallucinatory and horror-driven moments).
Extras start with a so-so commentary by director Taylor Hackford. He's talkative and knowledgeable about the film, but he spends too much time narrating and not enough discussing production history or thematic material. Another participant might have raised the bar on this commentary a bit. We also get twelve deleted scenes (with option Hackford commentary) that are mostly extended moments but include some interesting bits that were excised. Finally, the film's trailer is included.
The Devil's Advocate is not a great movie -- it's too long and takes itself too seriously to get there -- but it is a fun movie despite its length and thematic seriousness. Fans of the film will appreciate the audiovisual upgrade of The Devil's Advocate (Blu-ray) Unrated Director's Cut, while those interested in any of the actors (or dramatic horror, more generally) should consider giving this disc a rental.
It doesn't take a lawyer to decide The Devil's Advocate is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2012 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 144 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Deleted Scenes