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Blu-ray Review: The Devil’s Advocate – Unrated Director’s Cut (1997)

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In case you missed the official word from up above, the apocalypse came to pass in the ’90s. It started sheepishly enough with fashions and hairstyles, eventually gravitating towards a slew of moving pictures all about those timeless battles between good and evil. Coincided coincidentally enough with the forthcoming terrors of Y2K, filmmakers near and far brought us tales targeted at die-hard Christian nutjobs and the most remote of believers alike. Fallen, The Prophecy, El Día de la Bestia, Left Behind, et al — there were doomsday flicks emerging on big and small screens everywhere every five minutes.

Of course, like any topical trend in the picture business, a little time is all it takes for people to forget all about something. The eventual re-discovery of any such item several years down the line is bound to either delight or displease a viewer, depending on how dated the film has become, or how truly ludicrous the concept was to begin with.

When The Devil’s Advocate first came across my wary eyes in 1997, I was thoroughly convinced it was one of the finest films I had seen in a long time. I watched it twice in a row, in fact — something I rarely do. Even my wife at the time enjoyed it — something that was even rarer than the notion of me watching the same damn movie back-to-back. My boss at the time was scared shitless by it, though — something that made me laugh, as I fancied the storyline to be purely fictional at best. Fifteen years down the line, I still find the plot of The Devil’s Advocate to be about as plausible as any other “supernatural thriller” (as they dub them), though my opinion on the entire title has changed somewhat.

The story finds an oddly top-billed Keanu Reeves as Kevin Lomax, an up-and-coming criminal attorney with a seemingly god-given gift for winning his cases — no matter how vile his clients may be. Of course, his gift doesn’t come from that Jehovah fellow, but rather, that other guy. And chewing up every set piece and scene with his own god-given knack for overacting is none other than Al Pacino as Satan himself, who goes by the handle of John Milton here. Luring Lomax to a pre-9/11 New York, Milton begins to dazzle the vainglorious defender of scum with many of the things I myself wouldn’t mind having: money, power, and a hot redhead chick who speaks Italian (Connie Nielsen).

Of course, this doesn’t go over well with Lomax’s naïve, insecure, and extremely clingy wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron, back when she was still a bit of a newb in the industry), who senses foul things afoot. Mr. Lomax is too busy to tend to his wife, however, what with all those high-profile cases and naughty fantasies. Eventually, the grand master plan of that darn Devil begins to emerge — though our questionable hero has managed to get himself too far in to see a way out. Judith Ivey, Tamara Tunie, Craig T. Nelson, and disgraced actor Jeffrey Jones also star in this drama of ultimate temptation, with appearances by Paul Benedict, George Wyner, Al D’amato and Don King (the latter two as themselves).

For the most part, The Devil’s Advocate is still an enjoyable and gripping-enough thriller at times. The whole economy in which the movie was based, however, has become as empty as the film’s star’s résumé since then, of course — and the mostly Internet-less world the story is set in seems as alien as the thought of Keanu Reeves receiving billing over Al Pacino in the late ’90s (nowadays, neither of them would get top-billing!). And then there’s the delivery by Mr. Reeves itself. Yes, he’s bad. Hell, he’s always bad. I don’t know how I could have thought he was good when I first saw this movie 15 years ago, but I cannot say in good faith that time has improved his performance.

Oh, well, I’ve seen him — and Pacino — do much worse. So I guess I’ll still give The Devil’s Advocate a good rating — though it shan’t be anywhere near the high praise I gave it in ’97.

After the decade-and-a-half I experienced between viewings, I cannot say I noticed anything too terribly different in this Unrated Director’s Cut than that which was present in the original R-rated release. When the movie first hit home video, a lawsuit from sculptor Frederick Hart resulted in Warner Bros. altering the gigantic piece of art on display in Pacino’s office until it plays a larger part near the conclusion of the movie — and that changed sculpture is still present in this release (frown). Upon further research, I have discovered that there are no other alterations present in this release of the movie other than those dealing with that damned sculpture (though Hart has been dead for thirteen years now).

As such, those looking for a longer or different cut of the film will no doubt be somewhat disappointed, though the quality on this 1080p/AVC Blu-ray is quite an improvement over the old SD-DVD, and boasts fine detail and contrast along with some strong colors and black levels. A DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack delivers all of the subtleties the movie has to offer (of which there are many, including visual ones) admirably, and there are numerous audio/subtitle tracks available in varying foreign languages. Most of the same special features from the SD-DVD have been ported over to this release, and include a feature-length audio commentary by director Taylor Hackford, a theatrical trailer for the movie, and a good 47-minutes of deleted/extended scenes (good God, how long was this movie to begin with?).

The plus-side of the aforesaid snipped bits is that they were only available on DVD with commentary by Mr. Hackford. Fortunately, this Blu-ray release — though it still presents the scenes in Standard-Definition — gives you the option to view them in their native, narration-less glory. If there’s any reason for a still-avid fan of this movie to pick this title up, that might be it right there. Well, that and the option to see Charlize Theron and Connie Nielsen’s full-frontal goodness in HD, of course.

Oh, lead me not into temptation…

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About Luigi Bastardo

Luigi Bastardo is the disgruntled alter-ego of a thirtysomething lad from Northern California who has watched so many weird movies since the tender age of 3 that a conventional life is out of the question. He currently lives in Chico, CA with four cats named Groucho, Harpo, Chico, and Margaret. Seriously.