The Devil's Advocate (1997 film)

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The Devil's Advocate
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by Anne Kopelson
Arnold Kopelson
Arnon Milchan
Screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin
Tony Gilroy
Based on The Devil's Advocate 
by Andrew Neiderman
Starring Keanu Reeves
Al Pacino
Charlize Theron
Jeffrey Jones
Judith Ivey
Connie Nielsen
Craig T. Nelson
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Editing by Mark Warner
Studio Regency Enterprises
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 17, 1997 (1997-10-17)
Running time 146 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $57 million
Box office $152,944,660[2]

The Devil's Advocate (marketed as Devil's Advocate) is a 1997 American mystery thriller film based on Andrew Neiderman's novel of the same name. It is directed by Taylor Hackford and stars Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, and Charlize Theron.

The film's title is a reference to the commonly used phrase "devil's advocate", and Pacino's character is named after the author of Paradise Lost, John Milton.[3] The movie has some minor allusions to Milton's epic, such as the famous quotation "Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven".


Kevin Lomax, a defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, has never lost a case. He defends a schoolteacher, Lloyd Gettys, against a charge of child molestation. During the trial Kevin realizes his client is guilty, and a reporter tells him that a guilty verdict is all but inevitable. Through a harsh cross-examination Kevin destroys the victim's credibility, securing a not guilty verdict.

A representative of the New York law firm Milton, Chadwick & Waters offers Kevin a large sum of money to help with a jury selection. After the jury delivers a not guilty verdict, Milton offers him a large salary and a swanky apartment if he joins the firm. Despite warnings from his Evangelical Christian mother, Alice, about big city life, Kevin accepts the job and moves with wife Mary Ann to Manhattan.

Kevin defends a Voudou shaman, Phillipe Moyez, who is arrested for ritually sacrificing animals. He compares the incident to kashrut law, claiming his client is protected under freedom of religion, winning the case. Kevin spends more time at work, leaving Mary Ann feeling isolated. Kevin's mother visits New York and suggests they both return to Gainesville. Kevin refuses.

Kevin next defends Alexander Cullen, a billionaire accused of murdering his wife, her step-child and a maid. This case demands more of Kevin's time, further separating him from Mary Ann. He begins fantasizing about his co-worker Christabella, while Mary Ann begins experiencing a mental breakdown. Mary Ann claims the wives of the other partners at the firm are demons after she sees their faces briefly become demonic. Her sanity further erodes following a nightmare in which a baby plays with her removed ovaries and she finds her gown covered in blood. After a doctor declares her infertile, she begs Kevin to return to Gainesville. Milton suggests Kevin step down from the trial to tend to his wife, but Kevin claims he will not be able to love his wife again until he wins the case.

Eddie Barzoon, the firm's managing partner, is convinced that Kevin is competing for his job after finding his name in the company papers as a partner. Although Kevin denies any knowledge, Eddie threatens to inform the United States Attorney's office about the situation. Kevin tells Milton about Eddie's threats, but Milton dismisses Barzoon's misplaced ambition and attitude. Eddie is beaten to death by vagrants who take on demonic appearances. Mary Ann witnesses this, disturbing her further.

While preparing Cullen's secretary and mistress to testify about Cullen's alibi, Kevin realizes she is lying and tells Milton he believes Cullen is guilty. Milton offers to back Kevin regardless. Kevin proceeds with her testimony and wins an acquittal. After the trial, Kevin finds Mary Ann in a nearby church, naked and scratched with claw marks. She claims Milton raped and mutilated her, but as Kevin saw Milton in court with him, he believes Mary Ann injured herself and has her committed to a mental institution.

Kevin is approached by United States Attorney Mitch Weaver about the firm being investigated for illegal activities in drugs and weapons. Kevin ignores him, but Weaver then tells him about the discovery of a dead girl in the car trunk of his former client, Lloyd Gettys. While approaching Kevin, Weaver is killed by a car. Alice returns to New York, having heard about Mary Ann's condition. She, along with Kevin and Pam Garrety, Kevin's case manager, visit Mary Ann at the institution. Alone with Mary Ann, Pam appears as a demon through a mirror. Mary Ann attacks Pam with the mirror and locks herself in the room. As Kevin breaks down the door, Mary Ann commits suicide with a piece of glass from the mirror.

Alice reveals that Milton is Kevin's father. Kevin leaves the hospital to confront Milton, who admits to raping Mary Ann. Kevin fires a pistol into Milton's chest, but the bullets are ineffective. Kevin realizes Milton is not only his father, but also Satan. Kevin blames Milton for everything that happened, but Milton explains that he merely "set the stage"; Kevin could have left at any time. Kevin realizes he always wanted to win, no matter the cost. Milton tells Kevin that he wants Kevin and Christabella, Kevin's half-sister, to conceive a child: the Antichrist. Kevin rejects his heritage, citing free will, and shoots himself in the head.

Kevin wakes up at the recess of the Gettys trial; he imagined everything from the end of the original recess through his suicide. Kevin announces that he can no longer represent his client, despite the threat of being disbarred. The reporter from the beginning of the film pleads for an interview and promises to make Kevin a star for his unexpectedly moral decision. After some prodding from Mary Ann, Kevin agrees. After Kevin and Mary Ann leave, the reporter shapeshifts into Milton. Breaking the fourth wall, he says, "Vanity. Definitely my favorite sin."



The Devil's Advocate received generally favorable reviews and holds a 66% rating in Rotten Tomatoes based on 47 reviews. The consensus states: "Though it is ultimately somewhat undone by its own lofty ambitions, The Devil's Advocate is a mostly effective blend of supernatural thrills and character exploration."[4]

Critic James Berardinelli wrote that the film "is a highly enjoyable motion picture that's part character study, part supernatural thriller, and part morality play".[5] In contrast, Roger Ebert wrote, "The movie never fully engaged me; my mind raced ahead of the plot, and the John Grisham stuff clashed with the Exorcist stuff."

The Devil's Advocate holds a rating of 60 on Metacritic.[6]

Box office[edit]

The Devil's Advocate earned $12,170,536 during its opening weekend in the United States[7] finishing second in the box office. It ended with a total domestic gross of $60,944,660, and $92,000,000 internationally.[8]

Legal problems[edit]

The film was the subject of legal action following its release. The claim was that the sculpture featuring human forms in John Milton's apartment closely resembled the Ex nihilo sculpture by Frederick Hart on the facade of the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and that a scene involving the sculpture infringed Hart's rights under copyright law.[9] After a federal judge ruled that the film's video release would be delayed until the case went to trial unless a settlement was reached, Warner Bros. agreed to edit the scene for future releases and to attach stickers to unedited videotapes to indicate there was no relation between the sculpture in the film and Hart's work.[10]


  1. ^ "THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 1997-10-31. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  2. ^ "The Devil's Advocate (1997)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  3. ^ The Devil's Advocate Movie Review. New York Times
  4. ^ "The Devil's Advocate Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  5. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  6. ^ "The Devil's Advocate Reviews, Ratings, Credits, and More at Metacritic". 1997-10-17. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  7. ^ The Devil's Advocate (1997) – Box office / business
  8. ^ "The Devil's Advocate (1997)". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  9. ^ "The Devil's Advocate". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  10. ^ Film studio settles claim over copyrighted sculpture The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

External links[edit]