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. 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, Gettys, against a charge of child molestation. During the trial, Kevin realizes that his client is guilty, and a reporter tells him that a guilty verdict is all but inevitable. However, through a harsh cross-examination Kevin destroys the credibility of the victim, Barbara, and secures another not guilty verdict.
As he celebrates, Kevin is approached by a representative of the New York law firm Milton, Chadwick & Waters, who offers him a large sum of money to help the firm with a jury selection. After Kevin’s jury delivers a not guilty verdict, John Milton offers him a large salary and a swanky apartment if he joins the firm. Despite warnings from his Evangelical Christian mother, Alice, about sinful big city life, Kevin accepts the job and moves with his wife Mary Ann to Manhattan.
Kevin first defends a Voudou shaman, Phillipe Moyez, who is arrested for ritually sacrificing animals. He compares the incident to kashrut law and claims that his client is protected under freedom of religion, winning the case. Kevin spends an increasing amount of time at work, leaving Mary Ann feeling isolated which causes her sanity to deteriorate. Kevin’s mother visits New York, and after seeing Mary Ann, suggests that they both return to Gainesville. Kevin however, refuses.
Kevin next defends Alexander Cullen, a billionaire accused of murdering his wife, his child and a maid. This case demands more of Kevin’s time, further separating him from Mary Ann. He begins having fantasies about co-worker Christabella Andreoli, while Mary Ann begins to have a mental breakdown. Mary Ann claims that the wives of the other partners at the firm are demons after she sees their faces become demonic. Her sanity further erodes following a nightmare she has where a baby plays with her ovaries and her gown becomes covered in blood, and after a doctor declares her infertile. Milton suggests that Kevin step down from the trial to tend to his wife, but Kevin refuses.
Eddie Barzoon, the firm’s managing attorney, 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 is unconcerned, sarcastically dismissing Barzoon as “God’s special little creature”. At that moment, Eddie is beaten to death by vagrants, who take on demonic appearances. Mary Ann witnesses this which sends her over the edge.
While preparing Cullen’s mistress Melissa Black 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 decides to proceed with her testimony and wins an acquittal. After the trial, Kevin finds Mary Ann in a nearby church, naked and covered with cuts. She tells her husband that Milton raped and mutilated her, but Kevin saw Milton in court with him at the time of the alleged attack; he believes that Mary Ann injured herself, and has her committed.
Kevin is approached by U.S. Attorney Mitch Weaver about how the firm is under investigation by the US Government for its illegal activities. Initially Kevin ignores him, but Weaver gains his attention after he tells him about the discovery of a dead girl in the car trunk of his former client in Florida, Gettys. While approaching Kevin, Weaver is run over and killed by a car. Alice, now back in New York, along with Kevin, and Pam Garrety, Kevin’s case manager at the firm, visit Mary Ann at the mental 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 tries to break down the door, Mary Ann takes a piece of broken glass from the mirror and cuts her throat with it, killing herself.
Before he can mourn, Alice reveals that Milton is Kevin’s father. Kevin leaves the hospital to confront Milton, who gleefully admits to raping Mary Ann. Kevin fires a pistol into Milton’s chest, but the bullets have no effect. Kevin realizes that Milton is not only his father, but also Satan himself. 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 that he always wanted to win, no matter the cost, and left Mary Ann behind. Milton explains his time and plans on Earth, similar to the position Satan takes in “Paradise Lost”, and that he wants Kevin and Christabella, who is Kevin’s half-sister, to conceive a child: the Antichrist. However, Kevin rejects his Satanic heritage, citingfree will and shoots himself in the head, ruining Milton’s plan. Kevin’s spiritual form requests and receives absolution from God, and is given a second chance at life, reverting his life back to the recess during the Gettys trial.
After realizing his potential future, Kevin announces that he can no longer represent his client, despite the threat of being disbarred. The reporter who told Kevin at the beginning of the film that a guilty verdict was all but inevitable follows Kevin and Mary Ann, pleading for an interview and promising to make Kevin a star. After some prodding from Mary Ann, Kevin reluctantly agrees. After Kevin and Mary Ann leave, the reporter shapeshifts into a grinning Milton. Breaking the fourth wall, he says, “Vanity — definitely my favorite sin.”