THE OSCAR DERBY. "THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE"
Stars Al Pacino, Keanu Reeves. Charlize Theron.
You heard it Here 12 years ago, I said "THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE WILL BE NOMINATED FOR BEST SCREENPLAY. (it was. It won, too. But I wrote this way before it won.) Adapted from a pallid novel written by Andrew Neiderman, which is unreadable...boring.. you could NOT see any of what the screenwriter found in it. This adapter, scripter Jonathan Lemkin did it all. God knows how he saw 'its bones' reading it. When you see how boring the novel was you'll know Lempkin earned that oscar. This film delivers the imaginative pizza sizzle we got in "Pulp Fiction" a few years back and may similarly, walk off with a Best Screenplay Oscar.
Producer Arnold Kopelson, Exec Producer-hyphen-director Taylor Hackford, (Hellen Mirrin's hubby, director of Officer and Gentleman,) set a morality play worthy of Renaissance Europe on Park Avenue, in the Big Apple where the bonfire of the Vanities appears to have become a Millenium-sized conflagration.
In this version of Modern Life, lawyers have been chosen by the King of the Dark Side to once and for all annihilate justice and goodness. Who else could procure all those acquittals for bad guys? It's a brilliant plot stroke.
The mastermind of this plan is Satan himself, played by Pacino with his unique brand of piquant, tomato-ripe Italian tomcat zest. This is a Lucifer ala Romano who is having an Italianate good time in New Babylon.
As LAW, or the control of it, is so important to the New World Disorder, Pacino invites all the brightest and best to work for him, chortling that there are more law students in the wings today than there are or ever have been...lawyers on the entire planet. A chilling thought.
Pacino makes a good case for defending brigands and lying like a rug. He lives in a sumptuous Penthouse where the wall friezes copulate, never sleeps, doesn't have a bed there as he does it "everywhere" else. He admires being loose, promises he'll kill you with kindness, smiles all the time. His only pique: he is outraged with God whom he calls 'look-but-don't-touch tight ass Sadist' who won't let you enjoy thin women or fat food but he smiles when he says it.
Because he's a lot of laughs, Pacino is adored by all the successful, young, happy yuppies in his law firm, who, when they aren't out emptying boutiques, go about their work acquitting arms dealers, chemical death manufacturers, wife-slaying pedophile tycoons and merrily shred the documents afterwards.
Pacino is a happy Devil, glad to be a simple man, who prefers the bonhomie of the fish markets of the Lower east side and subways to society balls and limos. He talks Chinese to fish vendors, Russian to clients, Spanish to his own subway mugger, telling the punk that his wife Carlotta just got into bed with the neighbor. Pacino relishes sharing all the salacious details of what they're doing in X-rated subtitles, admonishing the subway mugger to run home to his olive green bedspread before they finish which the mugger does, knife in hand.
Pacino's joy at using his Dark Pontifical powers is contagious. He becomes the most appealing screen character since Jack Nicholson played the same role in "Witches of Eastwick."
Keanu mimes hovering mindlessly on some moral brink while Big Al plays a satanic enabler, who, while he can't exactly step in to create results, sets circumstances up so well that his charges flourish, demonically speaking, all on their own.
Loyal to his protégés, (unless, of course, they cooperate with the Justice Department in which case he looses legions of horrors (that New York just happens to have in abundance), Pacino takes particular relish in bonking their bodacious wives. Since they can't say no to the boss, the mark of Cain is on his flocks. The sad downside of working for Big Al is that his lawyers and their wives mutate into Rick Baker monsters at times, particularly when Keanu's church-going wife or bible thumping mother takes a look 'through the goodness prism.'
Good people have none of the fun but they get to see all of the fetid dimensions to big city reality yet what does it avail them? Either it drives them mad or they get to be the tedious, boring part of the movie. With a payoff like that, you just have to let yourself be seduced utterly by the Devil and this film will do it, creepily enough. In one, big bungie fling, you fall deeply in love with Al and hope (for the sake of your eternal soul) that you bounce out of it.
As Keanu wisely sees at the end of a few reels, best is to jump in and become a rich and famous monster and swallow The Satanic Fun Bug and bop the office beauty who looks oddly like his wife did before glib Al talks her into cutting off her gorgeous, blonde tresses. I mean, Keanu's not stupid.....not Keanu Reeves, right? And for a while there, in the ambitious, vain boy, mid winning streak, Big Al has the perfect co-character. Not co-actor, (that'll never happen, Costner and Reeves are the last hold-outs in the acting department,) NO, perfect co-character. Foil. And the result of their work is that you will be changed forever by seeing this movie. Pacino's rampaging performance will scare you into never eating fatty food or taking a job bonus again while Keanu succeeds in making goodness look like the result of a lobotomy.
At film's start, Keanu can hardly believe it but he wins his 64th straight court fight, this time defending a pedophile. The audience can hardly believe it either. He is so Pinocchio wooden that Devil's ADVOCATE makes his work in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure scream 'Oscar' caliber in contrast but of course, in Gainseville, Florida, winning trials and being wooden may actually be possible.
Anyway, as the plot develops, this cocky kid in snake-skin boots who can magically pick juries (this ritual is fascinating) attracts the attention of "The Firm" and Keanu and his bride relocate as fast as Tom Cruise did when the same Firm called in another movie.
Unlike Cruise, however, Keanu can stand in the shredding room holding his ears, screaming over the grinding machinery and never notice the moral implications. He's Pure Pinocchio. The little frown over his dark eyes is not sign of a thought, it's a sign the actor is struggling to recall dialogue, which makes the muscles of the face strain.
Not until Keanu is required to sign on that final, dotted line and conceive the New Emperor of Darkness with the fox he's lusted for since he got into town, (this film has two singular beauties in it,) does Keanu seem to 'wake up'. Nasty stuff is going on. And with this girl, doing the nasty will be just what the word implies. So even though the walls start copulating around them, first, Keanu refrains. Not to worry, one prissy spoilsport boy scout can't ruin Pacino's day. Al just leaps into another sub-character and re-seduces the boy hero all over again.
Delicious. I want a sequel just like it but this time with cheese, anchovies, olives, eggplant and sausage. All the high fat items. The eerie time lapse photography showing New York rolling and boiling through day and night with a Bernard Hermann type score interspersed with eerie atonal choral madrigals really works bigtime! GIMME THE CD of the music for Halloween parties, GIMME THE DVD of the movie. It's a total keeper.
P.S. A net friend wrote me: " The first thing they tell you when you learn about screenwriting is that your screenplay must be clean, lean and tight and always has to move the story forward. This script moves like a thunder while the climax comes from a very very long monolog by John Milton (Paccino's character). Everybody was so great on that movie. Aside from Paccino and Nielsen I was fascinated by Craig Nelson. He was on the screen for about... 5 minutes, but he embodied a character who exuded power, greed, evil. Oh your average TRUMP character. Tamara Tunie was also great. (She's the coroner on Law & Order.)
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