In movie-list omnibus 10 Bad Dates With De Niro, Tim Robey provided the true name of late-period Pacino with his piece “The Mighty Apoplexies of Pacino – Ten Scenes Where ‘Shouty Al’ Shows Up”. It began with saying hello to his little friend and continued through eviscerating Kevin Spacey as a fucking child in Glengarry Glen Ross, but the peak, the absolute zenith, of Shouty Al is his scene-devouring performance in The Devil’s Advocate.
Based on the novel by Andrew Neiderman, best known V.C. Andrews’s posthumous ghostwriter, and infused with the authors' same brand of unblinking, deliriously high-gothic lunacy, The Devil’s Advocate distills the spirit of a thousand lawyer jokes into pure, potent popcorn fare. Keanu Reeves plays undefeated hotshot lawyer Kevin Lomax, plucked from Florida’s backwaters to join Manhattan’s most powerful law firm. Critics regularly rank on Keanu’s acting, and while it’s true he holds an accent like a sieve holds water, here his intensity smoldering beneath a deadpan expression is perfect foil for Pacino’s go-for-broke, rubber-faced theatrics. Charlize Theron plays Lomax’s vivacious, supportive wife, leaning in and acting the shit out of her ridiculously swift fall past loneliness straight to terrorized insanity, and Craig T. Nelson and Jeffrey Jones pop up as exquisitely sleazy lawyers.
But let’s not pretend this movie belongs to anyone but Shouty Al. Lucifer as head of a law firm sounds like a bad New Yorker cartoon, but Pacino relishes playing John Milton (subtle as a sledgehammer, this movie) with bawdy, impish charm sliding to frothing rage, modern Mephistopheles incarnate. Though the lion’s share of attention goes to his piece de resistance rant against the Almighty (“He's a tight-ass! He's a sadist! He's an absentee landlord! Worship that? ! NEVER!”), the entire film is peppered with Shouty Al quips like “I’m the hand up Mona Lisa’s skirt!” and gleefully poking a finger in holy water to watch it boil. There’s a through line about free will as Milton tries to maneuver Lomax towards conception of the Antichrist, and Reeves measures up to the task, but all else pales beside the dazzling hamminess of Shouty Al. Reeves reportedly took a seven-figure pay cut to make sure the film could afford Pacino, and it was worth every penny—Pacino’s infectious delight in playing the ultimate bastard proves it’s better to reign in Hell (or New York City) than serve in Heaven.
The Devil's Advocate is streaming on HBO Max (updated March 2021).