The story begins with Gainesville, Florida attorney Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves) defending a school teacher accused of child molestation. Lomax has an “unbeaten” streak in trials, but this case is hopeless. Lomax, however, refuses to lose. He gathers his resolve and tears the young girl apart on the stand and gets his client acquitted. Of course, the client is guilty and Lomax’s victory will result in tragedy.
Lomax is then tasked to defend a billionaire, Alex Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), who is accused of murdering his wife. Lomax’s life soon begins to unravel. His wife becomes paranoia and worries that he’s having an affair. She is told that she is infertile and she tries to kill herself at a critical time for Lomax after Milton rapes her in a dream; Lomax doesn’t believe her. At the same time, Lomax discovers that the firm is engaged in shady practices. The Justice Department is after the firm. People die around the firm. He fights with the firm’s managing partner Eddie Barzoon. Lomax’s mother tells him that Milton is the Devil and that he also happens to be Lomax’s father. And he realizes that his clients are lying and are forcing him into unethical positions.
An Interesting Film
There are many things that drive me nuts with The Devil’s Advocate. The legal aspects of the film are utterly fake. Basically, anything you see in a courtroom is not how it really happens. I don’t understand why Satan would hire an Eddie Barzoon. Surely, he can find someone a good deal sharper and more reliable amongst his minions. Milton talks about using the law to destroy the system, but the trials in which they engage seem rather minor for the purpose. Milton’s big speech revealing his plan is utter nonsense, as is his verbal attack on Barzoon as Barzoon is hunted down and killed by Milton’s agents. Examine the sentences of either speech without Al Pacino overacting in your face and you’ll see that they make no sense at all.
To understand this, let me first explain what a devil’s advocate is because this is important. A devil’s advocate is someone who adopts a position they believe to be wrong, immoral or false merely for the sake of argument for the purpose of forcing another to defend against or explain away that position. The key here is that they adopt that position only for the sake of argument... they don’t actually support the position or act in accordance with it.
Unfortunately, too many people seem to have lost this critical aspect of devil’s advocacy. Instead, they have morphed the idea into a justification for letting them act in immoral ways. For example, advertisers might push a product with claims they know are not true on the basis that their jobs is to advertise, not be regulators of truth. Cops and prosecutors enforce laws they see as immoral on the basis that their job is to enforce the law, not make it. And lawyers... well, lawyers are the worst.
What The Devil’s Advocate does is ask if we are able to see this problem. Indeed, the entire film is centered around this. Lomax begins the story by representing a man he knows to be guilty. And rather than letting the man be punished, he destroys a little girl to save his client. Each of the clients he represents at Milton’s firm present similar dilemmas for him. Likewise, he sees that his wife is falling apart and needs his help, but again, he tells himself that he can act in contradiction to his beliefs and principles long enough to achieve his purposes and then he will take care of her. Barzoon and the Justice Department both warn Lomax that Milton’s firm is evil, but Lomax again hides behind a devil’s advocate argument that lets him ignore the misdeeds he sees on the basis that he’s not responsible for them personally. At each step in the story, when people try to warn him that he is acting morally incorrect, he dismisses their concerns on the basis of some need to play devil’s advocate, but he goes beyond that in each instance and he acts immorally rather than merely adopting an immoral position solely for the sake of argument.
So what about the ending?
Or maybe it was just poor writing.