The Devil's Advocate is a 1997 American thriller-horror film directed by Taylor Hackford starring Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino and Charlize Theron, and based on a novel by Andrew Neiderman. The film's title is a reference to the common phrase "devil's advocate", and Pacino's character is a sly tribute to 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 (Keanu Reeves), a defense attorney in Gainesville, Florida, has never lost a case. He defends a schoolteacher, Mr. Gettys (Chris Bauer), against a charge of child molestation. During the trial, Kevin learns his client is guilty. A reporter tells him, "Nobody wins 'em all". Through a harsh cross-examination, Kevin destroys the credibility of the victim (Heather Matarazzo). 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 his jury delivers a not guilty verdict, John Milton (Al Pacino) offers Kevin a large salary and a swanky apartment if he joins the firm. Despite his Evangelical Christian mother, Alice's (Judith Ivey) warning about sinful big city life, Kevin accepts the job and moves with his wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) to Manhattan. Kevin first defends a Voodoo sorcerer (Delroy Lindo) who ritually sacrificed an animal. 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. Kevin next defends Alexander Cullen (Craig T. Nelson), a corporate billionaire accused of murdering his wife and child. This case demands more of Kevin's time, further separating him from Mary Ann. He begins having fantasies about co-worker Christabella Andreoli (Connie Nielsen), while Mary Ann shows signs of mental illness. Milton suggests that Kevin step down from the trial but Kevin refuses. Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones), 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, Barzoon threatens to inform United States Attorney Weaver about the situation. Kevin tells Milton about Barzoon's threats, but Milton is unconcerned. While jogging in Central Park Barzoon is beaten to death by vagrants, who take on demonic appearances. Mary Ann witnesses this, further eroding her sanity. While preparing Cullen's mistress Melissa (Laura Harrington) to testify about her lover'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 and wins an acquittal. After the trial Kevin finds Mary Ann in a nearby church. She is 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 Weaver with knowledge of the law firm's illegal activities. Although Kevin tries walking away, he stops when Weaver tells him that Mr. Gettys was found with the dead body of a girl in his car trunk. Following Kevin, Weaver walks into the street and is run over by a car. Alice and Pam (Debra Monk), Kevin's case manager at the firm, visit Mary Ann. Alone with Mary Ann, Pam appears as a demon through a mirror. Mary Ann smashes the mirror and uses the pieces to attack Pam. As Kevin tries to break down the door, Mary Ann cuts her throat with the glass, killing herself. Before he can mourn, Alice reveals that Milton is his father. Kevin leaves the hospital to confront Milton. Milton admits to raping Mary Ann. Kevin fires a pistol into his father's chest, but the bullets have no effect. Kevin realizes that Milton is not only his father but also Satan. Kevin blames Milton for everything that happened, but Satan 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. Satan explains that he wants Kevin and Christabella, who is Kevin's half-sister, to conceive a child: the Antichrist. He offers Kevin anything that he wants. Kevin cites free will and shoots himself in the head, triggering a vision of Hell. Kevin wakes up during the recess of the Gettys trial. After embracing Mary Ann, Kevin announces that he can no longer represent his pedophile client, despite the threat of being disbarred. A reporter 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."