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Roy Anker

The Ultimate Lawyer Joke

At a gangly two and a quarter hours, Devil's Advocate is without doubt history's longest and fanciest lawyer joke, albeit a grim and sometimes floridly lurid one. On the one hand a campy, awkward melange of Rosemary's Baby and The Firm, it is also the best lawyer film since Sidney Lumet's 1982 classic, and really incomparable, The Verdict, in which an ambulance-chasing drunk (Paul Newman) finds a quiet but full-blown redemption. If Devil's Advocate is any evidence, we have now concluded that lawyers are quite beyond hope, for in this film, well, the ultimate Bad Guy wins, and wins big.

In the real world, needless to say, that is not a cheerful prospect. What makes Devil's Advocate fun is the wit and ingenuity of its incisive portrait of evil, especially of the way evil accomplishes the destruction for which it yearns. Give Nathaniel Hawthorne a smile and a camera, put him in contemporary Manhattan, and you might get something like Devil's Advocate, only it would be a lot better.

The naive young man who runs, Hawthorne-style, into big-time evil is Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), a back-country Florida lawyer who has never lost a case either as prosecutor or defense attorney. His success lies in an uncanny ability to pick sympathetic juries and, fueling that, an egotism that wins at any cost, even to the point of exonerating ugly-guilty molesters.

A record like that attracts the attention of big-time New York law firms, and Lomax finds himself and his pretty wife whisked away, with seeming magic, to the Big Apple, on which he is more than eager to feed. Wooed and beguiled and successful, Lomax lands on the fast track as the protege of head-honcho John Milton (Al Pacino), who cavorts here, barely incognito, as Old Nick himself—wily, depraved, and bemused. Milton (the name is a feeble literary joke, alluding to the poet William Blake's contention that, in Paradise Lost, his great predecessor John Milton actually sided with Satan) spends a lot of time "in the air" or in New ...

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