It’s so easy to hate Al Pacino. Too easy in fact. After all, he’s the Devil.
Or at least, he is in the film, The Devil’s Advocate starring Keanu Reeves and Charlize Theron as Reeves’ wife, Marianne, and, of course, Al Pacino as the Devil himself.
And it’s so easy to fall into the trap and to have empathy for the cheap and saccharine, Florida, backwoods, shucks-thank-you-ma’am-golly-gosh defense attorney Keanu Reeves, who is , as it will turn out, unsurprisingly, not so sweet after all. But then, who is?
The Devil’s Advocate is such a contorted and twisted story and not really a great script, yet there is little you can throw Pacino’ s way that will not become a sort of Pacino masterpiece. Perhaps he is the ultimate scene stealer; the king of the show and the center of the action and the be all end all, but no matter what the all is, Pacino is just that good and can therefore get away with it.
One could easy and rightly say that Al Pacino is one of the few who can take a bad script and turn it into a fucking work of art, which is why we love him and why he is good at his craft and so in demand, and though he has played many great roles, to see Pacino as the Devil himself is to watch flesh and blood bordering on something that could be believable, or in the very least, convincing (that yes, we all know already) that true evil in this particular form does exist and it’s in the form of Al Pacino, or at least here it is. The fact is, true evil exists in almost all of us if given the right and enough temptation, and that is precisely what this film is all about; where is your particular breaking point? Do we all have one and if so, how far does it take to push one there. For some, not very much, as we’ve seen and bear witness to almost every day; for others, it can take a great deal before they slip into anything truly evil.
The question though; is it Keanu Reeves, the young lawyer who is truly evil or is it the older, wiser and more experienced Pacino, or are they equal. Or is it neither rand the point simply that any of us can be tempted given the right temptation under the right circumstances and that some of us are more fallible than others or that all of us have a breaking point? It’s not a pretty thought, but it’s really what this film is all about. The constant struggle and the choices we make every day between what is good, what is bad and what is truly evil. To hurt and hurt or not.
As it turns out, Pacino and Reeves will turn out to be more alike than not.
First, from the minute Keanu is lured away from Florida after he has just finished getting a known (and known to him as guilty) child-molester free from serving any prison time and seen that he is acquitted of all charges, he catches or has caught Pacino’s eye who sends a minion to lure Reeves and his wife Marianne (Charlize Theron) to New York to practice in his impressive and grand law firm with all the perks one could possibly want:: a huge and beautiful office with a view, the to-die-for salary, a grand and beautiful apartment in what is known as “the family building” where only the best and the brightest are afforded to stay and where the Devil himself lives in “The Tower,” atop the building (one of those old New York buildings with a sort of house perched on top; the sort of place one would love to live.).
It is as if our Keanu has lost his conscience. This isn’t the Keanu of the Matrix ~ not yet anyway ~ the boy wonder who will save the world and protect what is left of man kind. This is Keanu in a different role and if anything, he is contributing to the downfall of man, and one thinks that surely somewhere in those coiled labyrinths of his brain, he does know this. You can’t spend your time getting guilty people off and not know that something about you is a bit off, even if everyone has a right to representation. Reeves has gone from at one time, prosecuting the bad guys to defending them, and why? For love of money, what else..
If anything, he is the one who will be sure to see that the moral structure of our society fall and fail and crumble in order that he himself may gain and further his career. It sounds callous, but it’s “just a job” and yes, everyone does have a right to fair legal representation. Reeves’ choice then is not so unusual as there are lawyers who do this every day.
Okay cut: So off Keanu goes, lured by Pacino to The Big NYC, or “Babylon,” as his overly protective and eager church mother calls it, and where he begins working for Pacino’s chic and no nonsense practice that makes, a practice if you will of getting known offenders acquitted for just about any crime in the book, even the most heinous of crimes… Will you take the side of the protecting the innocent or the side of defending the guilty?” where as Pacino notes, “the real money is.” Cleary, Keanu has made his decision, and more, he’s good at it. He can pick a jury by almost looking (in this way, the film has a bit of that Runaway Jury feel, but just a bit); the jury-picking ability that Reeves has seems believable.
Pacino mocks God and why not? First, he’s the devil, and like our old friend Hannibal Lecter says in Silence of the Lambs about God , Why just last week he watched as the roof caved in while a congregation groveled on their kneed to him (not an exact quote, but you get the point).
God, Pacino says, is the one who teases and taunts; It is He who puts before us all the temptations and the forbidden fruit. He who creates such forbiddens and then says You cannot have~ don’t touch. He, who plays us all like “marionettes” Pacino says. He says “look but don’t touch.” He is a God who tempts and teases “for his own amusement.” Pacino’ s God is vengeful and cruel and full of trickery and mockery and why not…Why shouldn’t he be. We know that our God has been a vengeful God, whether we like it or not. Look no further than the Old Testament and it in some ways supports Pacino’s theories..
Pacino is right about many things, which makes him, whether you like it or not, a sympathetic character and while I get the sense that we are supposed to feel sorry for Keanu Reeves and his good-little-church-boy act (which is crap because as Pacino notes, the minute he gets to New York he is checking out another woman at the firm to “trade up” on Marianne – or at least, get a leg over with the “hot” red-head at the office, so much so that he even has sex with his wife and literally sees this woman and plays it out in his mind… )
Or is all of this not Keanu’s doing but rather, a trick of the devil? Am I wrong or don’t people do this everyday? Trick of the devil or not, this happens. No, there is no judgment passed here; but to push it all off on Pacino is just inane and makes no sense. Yes, he holds out the carrot before the horse tempting and taunting, but the horse follows. He would not were it not already in his nature. He could at any point turn away, yet he chooses not to.
So then why the need to make Keanu seem more innocent than need be. To be more human than humanly possibly or more human than the rest of us; a sort of uber-moral man who is tempted (so “understandingly” we are meant to believe seems outrageous and unbelievable from the get-go. In fact, the whole set up seems absurd. I recall recently reading and talking to a private detective that I sometimes work wtih that any number of people go to the office and cheat, something like 75% according, because that’s the “prime place for finding partners with similar interests,” and yes, of course, that does involve fucking.
So, Keanu is surrounded by temptation: seductive, albeit evil, sirens at work; a job that lures him so far away from his wife that she becomes so alienated and alone that she begins to lose her mind, or Keanu thinks she has when really she is just seeing things more clearly than he is. Meanwhile, he’s carrying on a rich fantasy life with the red-head in the office, one of the the Devils’s minions, and the attraction seems mutual (this gets sicker but you’ll have to watch the film for this).
So yes, while Keanu’s wife believes she is slowly losing her mind, or because Keanu, more to the point believes she is in need of help because she sees something that he does not and therefore, it must not exist, he assumes she must be nuts. She sees the other company wives morph into creatures that are inhuman. She is raped, she tells her husband, raped by the his boss, the Devil, and left covered in cuts (which he assumes to be self –inflicted and thus institutionalizes her for “her own safety.”)
And yet… all along Keanu’s wife has been telling him that something is not quite right. That something is wrong and that she needs his help. Pacino is excellent here, by giving Keanu a no-win choice, just as you’d expect from the Devil: help your wife and drop this huge, career-making murder case, even encouraging Keanu to drop the case and help his marriage, for Marianne really needs him. It’s a classic story played out. A real bitch of choice and in this particular case, “your marriage or your career.” All Keanu can say is this: he wants to stay on the case because he knows that if “Marianne gets better and I drop the case, I will resent her…” For certain he’s just being honest, but wow, self-centered to the end. Enough to make even Daddy proud.
To the end, Keanu will pretty much maintain his position until he sees for himself, literally, that things are not as they seem. Until he is at the funeral of a coworker and sees a person there morph into something else; into the child molester he set free, into creatures he cannot explain. This part, does seem sort of hokey and too convenient but we do need somewhere in the plot for Keanu to realize the error of his ways so he must either see it for himself, since he does not trust Marianne or else she is doomed to the sanitarium forever.
As predicted, Keanu goes rushing out to save his Marianne from the hospital, the same one he put her in and the same one that for all intents and purposes he drove her to by not believing in her and just enjoying the temptations of the fruit that surrounded him.
Even at the end when Keanu realizes, through some contorted plot development (I won’t get into it here, suffice to say there are too many built in scenes here that are just too convenient), that Al Pacino, the Devil is his real father and the cool, sexy redhead chick at the office that he wanted to fuck so badly? She is his half sister. But even this, even after rushing away from Marianne’s side and running to confront the Devil himself, Keanu finds that he is soon making out in a rather heated fashion with his half sister. “The Virtue of the deal is in the loins.” Pacino says, and love, love is overrated and nothing more than like eating huge quantities of chocolate.
Isn’t that right though? Is love the same feeling we get from eating chocolate? Certainly enough studies tell us we get the same rush and that it releases the same chemicals in the brain, endorphins and what not, then love is not more than a chemical interaction. The only problem with Pacino’s logic here is that the same can be said of attraction, physical, sexual attraction for it too is based on sense and smell and all things chemical. It’s no more than two primates who catch a whiff of the right smell for them and know that this is the partner for them.
Yes, there is more to it, but if you boil it all down to the most simplistic terms, then what Pacino says is true.
It’s easy to feel for Keanu Reeves as the protagonist and perhaps you’ll want to, although there is something sort of oddly refreshing about Al Pacino’s Devil in this film: his raw and open honesty hits home and his utter lack of bullshit.
The only real victim here is the wife, Marianne, for she is the true innocent if any of us can be called innocent. She is the one who warns all along, she is the one who sees from the beginning, but the person we can most identify with in the film, the person who does, in fact, make a great many valid points and if you’re looking for intellectual reasoning, is Al Pacino.
As to the rest of the film, you’ll have to see how it goes for I have said more than enough here. Suffice to say there are enough surprises to keep you guessing though I’ve labeled this a spoiler for obvious reasons. This isn’t by any stretch a great film and surely many will feel that it’s not worth the two hours to watch it. It all depends on personal taste. From a simple point of view, it was entertaining enough, albeit hokey at times, it was entertaining enough. Don’t expect anything great here, no Eye of the Needle or Three Days of the Condor type of thing, but to expect to be reasonably entertained in that Al Pacino way might be worth it. And after all, all great actors have their moments when they have that one or so films that butter the bread.
As Pacino says in the final account, “Free will… It’s a bitch.”