Monday, September 14, 2009

27 Days of Fright (The Reprint) - Day Eleven

Here's one of the movies that I took a second look at recently...

Originally Published Thursday 16th October 2008

The Devils Advocate

Big name actors, really big name actors, aren’t the sort of people you expect to see in horror but we’ve already had Robert De Nero as the monster in Frankenstein, Johnny Depp in Nightmare on Elm Street, Nicholas Cage, Bill Pullman, and now Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves in The Devils Advocate. I’m not sure what attracts these guys to this sort of film but they’ve all had a go, some more than once (Craig T. Nelson, I’m looking at you!)

The Devils Advocate tells the tale of Kevin Lomax (Reeves), a successful lawyer from Bumsville Florida, who has never lost a case. His track record attracts the attention of a large New York law firm who want him to help them pick a jury. Kevin and his wife Mary Ann travel to the city where they live the high life while Kev picks his jury. The case is won thanks to that jury and the head man of the law firm, John Milton (Pacino), offers Lomax a job and all the perks that go with it, becoming a sort of mentor to Lomax.

Kevin settles into city life with apparent ease but Mary Ann struggles. Kevin’s unbroken record continues and he wins a couple of high profile cases but as Kevin’s star rises Mary Ann slips into a form of depression and she begins to see visions of monsters. Her condition spirals to the point of her being hospitalised. Meanwhile Kevin allows his desire to win cloud his sense of right and wrong and he makes some ethically unsound moves. When the Lomax’s situation comes to a head Kevin realises that Milton is more than just a mentor to him and much more than just a lawyer – he’s the Devil incarnate!

Al wanna cookie! Now!!!

The Devil’s Advocate is a slick piece of cinema. New York looks every bit the rich mans playground and the way the life Milton offers to Lomax is portrayed as incredibly seductive. Reeves gives his standard interpretation of what acting is but Pacino steals the show, totally dominating every scene he’s in and absolutely running away with the final scenes. Charlize Theron as Mary Ann puts in a great performance, making her characters disintegration believable and tragically obviously avoidable – obvious to everyone but her and her husband. The supporting cast all do a bang up job too, with everyone just a little over the top and larger than life to make Pacino’s antics fit right. The pacing of the film works well too and the picture never feels long despite running over two hours.

What makes Advocate unique though is the deft way humour is used throughout the film. The Devil, even at his most crass and base is charming and downright funny – his comments about God will make you laugh out loud! The humour works because there’s nothing really scary going on so it doesn’t feel like you’re being made to smile in order to offer some relief but so that you can play along instead, in Advocates case the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was getting you to like him and play his game.

Two thumbs up for The Devils Advocate.

I took a second look at Advocate recently and couldn't help but notice a couple of problems with the film that escaped me last time out.

There are a couple of odd continuity issues. For example, the scene where Lomax meets Eddie Barzoom, the Managing Director of the firm who's out jogging, doesn't seem to fit right in terms of time of day. Lomax is in casual clothes, Barzoom has the time to go jogging, and Milton is in a dressing gown when we see him. Lomax has also just come out from a shop where he seemed to be picking up a few essentials. Looking at this scene it appears to be a Saturday or Sunday morning, but it's in the middle of the trial and we hear in the next scene that Barzoom was killed "last night". Last night! How is that possible? There's snow on the ground! If all the boys had finished work for the day, in the winter time, in New York, surely it should have been dark! What the hell were they all doing? The principle partner in the firm, the managing director, and the head of the criminal department all appear to be skiving off work in the middle of a major trial! If Cullen had gotten sent down (or worse, the death penalty) a public defender could get him off at the retrial by pointing to lawyer negligence!

Secondly, during the scene where Lomax leaves the apartment when his mother is visiting we see him in a perfect crisp white shirt and bright tie. In the next scene (that same day) he's in a different suit and has a button-down shirt on, then he switches back to the original outfit in the following scene. These continuity problems all seem to be related to a bigger issue in the film. It appears that the film-makers had the final scene in mind all the time that they were making the rest of the flick. The dodgy scenes are there to make sense of something in the big climax where Pacino gets his rocks off - the bit with the changes of clothes seems to happen only so Pacino can say "after seeing those pictures" to Lomax in the last scene. These problems serve a strange second purpose though, and that's to sow a seed of discomfort in the viewers mind. Things don't add up so you tend to relate to Mary Ann more then you might have, and to be fair, you'd have to have seen the movie about ten times before they really make an impact.

During the recent viewing the big issue that stuck in my mind was with the bitter end of the film. After Lomax uses his free will to wriggle out of his Dad's plans for him, we jump back in time to the first trial of the child abuser. Lomax throws in the towel and he and Mary Ann go off to live their lives in Florida. Their journalist friend plays on their egos to get an exclusive interview and after they agree we see that the journalist was the Devil in disguise all along. Hang on. The Devil can manipulate time? He can go back and take another swipe at things? Why the hell does he keep fucking it up so? How come he had "so many children, so many dissappointments" as he said himself? If he can time travel, why not go back to the very beginning and not get cast from Heaven in the first place? It does leave a nice opening at the end of the movie to have Pacino get the last word, but it does make you wonder.

I'm sure these issues will continue to trouble me for a long time as I still really enjoy The Devil's Advocate, my two thumbs remain up for this one!

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