The Devil's Advocate (1997 film)

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For the 1977 film with the same name, based on the novel by Morris West, see The Devil's Advocate (1977 film).
The Devil's Advocate
A man in a suit is sitting, with a man standing behind him with his hands on his shoulders. He is sitting at a dark red table in a red room.
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by
Screenplay by Jonathan Lemkin
Tony Gilroy
Based on The Devil's Advocate 
by Andrew Neiderman
Music by James Newton Howard
Cinematography Andrzej Bartkowiak
Edited by Mark Warner
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 17, 1997 (1997-10-17)
Running time
144 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 drama 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 serve in Heaven".


Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), a defense attorney from Gainesville, Florida, has never lost a case. He defends a schoolteacher, Lloyd Gettys (Chris Bauer), against a charge of child molestation. Kevin believes his client is guilty, and a reporter tells him a guilty verdict is inevitable. However, through a harsh cross-examination, Kevin destroys the victim's credibility, securing a not guilty verdict.

A representative of a New York City law firm offers Kevin a large sum of money to help with a jury selection. After the jury delivers a not guilty verdict, the head of the firm, John Milton (Al Pacino), offers Kevin a large salary and an upscale apartment if he joins the firm. Kevin accepts the job, along with his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) to stay in Manhattan. He is soon spending all his time at work, leaving Mary Ann feeling isolated. Kevin's mother, Alice (Judith Ivey), visits New York and suggests they both return home. He refuses.

Kevin defends Alex Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), a billionaire accused of murdering his wife, her stepson and a maid. This case demands more of Kevin's time, further separating him from Mary Ann. He begins to fantasize about co-worker Christabella (Connie Nielsen). Mary Ann begins seeing visions of the partners' wives becoming demonic, and has a nightmare about a baby playing with her removed ovaries. 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, if he does, he will resent her.

Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones), the firm's managing partner, is convinced that Kevin is competing for his job when he discovers Kevin's name is on the firm's charter. Although a surprised Kevin denies any knowledge, Eddie threatens to inform the United States Attorney's office of the law firm's activities. Kevin tells Milton about Eddie's threats, but Milton dismisses them. Meanwhile, Eddie is beaten to death by vagrants, who take on demonic appearances. Mary Ann witnesses this, disturbing her further.

While preparing Melissa (Laura Harrington) to testify about Cullen's alibi, Kevin realizes she is lying and tells Milton he believes Cullen is guilty. Milton offers to back Kevin no matter what he decides to do. Kevin proceeds with her testimony and wins an acquittal. Afterwards, Kevin finds Mary Ann in a nearby church covered with a blanket. She claims Milton raped and mutilated her, but Kevin knows this cannot be true as he was with Milton in court. Mary Ann drops her blanket, revealing her naked body covered with cuts. Kevin believes Mary Ann injured herself and has her committed to a mental institution.

Alice, along with Kevin and Pam Garrety (Debra Monk), Kevin's case manager from the firm, visit Mary Ann at the mental institution. After seeing Pam as a demon, Mary Ann hits her with a hand mirror and barricades the room. As Kevin breaks down the door, Mary Ann commits suicide by cutting her throat with a shard of broken glass.

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 and go straight through him. Milton reveals himself as Satan. Kevin blames Milton for everything that happened, but Milton explains that he merely "set the stage" and that 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 appears to acquiesce at first, but then abruptly cites free will and shoots himself in the head, rejecting his Satanic heritage.

Kevin finds himself back in time at the recess of the Gettys trial. Choosing to do the right thing, Kevin announces that he cannot represent his client despite the threat of being disbarred. The reporter pleads for an interview, promising to make Kevin a star. Encouraged by Mary Ann, Kevin agrees. After they leave, the reporter transforms into Milton. In an aside, he quotes himself saying, "Vanity, Definitely my favorite sin."



Box office[edit]

The Devil's Advocate earned $12,170,536 during its opening weekend in the United States finishing second at the box office. It ended with a total North American domestic gross of $60,944,660, and $92,000,000 internationally.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 66% based on 47 reviews. The site's 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] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 60/100 based on reviews from 19 critics.[5]

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".[6] 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."[7]

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 in the United States.[8] 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.[9]


  1. ^ "THE DEVIL'S ADVOCATE (18)". British Board of Film Classification. 1997-10-31. Retrieved 2013-04-19. 
  2. ^ a b "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. Flixster. Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  5. ^ "The Devil's Advocate". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. 1997-10-17. Retrieved 2012-06-11. 
  6. ^ "Reelviews Movie Reviews". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "The Devil's Advocate". Retrieved 2011-02-05. 
  9. ^ Film studio settles claim over copyrighted sculpture The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

External links[edit]