American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Most movies about lawyers involve selling your soul to the devil, but “Devil's Advocate” is the first in which the devil gets more dialogue than the lawyers. The movie chronicles the descent of Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), a small-time legal star from Florida, into the depths of the New York big time. Recruited by a powerful Manhattan law firm, he finds himself defending goat-killers and real estate tycoons for a boss named John Milton, who offers him a paradise found.
Milton (Al Pacino) is the devil. That is a secret reserved for the second hour of the film, although the title hints it, the posters and TV commercials reveal it, and by the time it arrives Lomax is the only character who hasn't suspected. Charming, persuasive, with a wise little cackle, Milton sends a recruiter to Florida, where Lomax is an undefeated master of picking juries that do not convict. He wants the young man to join his team, and tempts him not on a mountain top but on a rooftop.
The scene of the first meeting between Milton and Lomax, on a skyscraper roof, scores a stunning visual impact. The production designer, Bruno Rubeo, has created a spectacular effect: A water garden in the sky, with pool surfaces spilling over the edges of the building, so that water and sky seem to meet without any architectural separation. The two men walk perilously close to the edge, as the director, Taylor Hackford, plays with vertigo to suggest that Lomax is being offered all of Manhattan at his feet--and also the possibility of a great and sudden fall.
The young lawyer is impressed. So, at first, is his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron), who can't believe it when Milton offers them a three-bedroom apartment in a luxurious Fifth Avenue co-op. Only Lomax's Bible-quoting mother (Judith Ivey) has her doubts, quoting scripture about Sodom, Gomorra and other keywords that pop into the mind when Manhattan is mentioned. Her advice, indeed, seems increasingly sound as the film progresses.