In Devil’s Advocate, a financially struggling young couple from Florida accept a career offer that seems too good to be true, and if it didn’t prove to be deadly in disguise, there wouldn’t have been much of a movie.  However, unlike some other legal thrillers which deal with strictly worldly evil, such as crime itself as dealt with by the legal system, and corruption within and between big law firms, there is a supernatural dimension in this one.  John Milton, the key man behind the lucrative job offer in New York which Lomax accepts, is a satanic figure who who hints at universal moral corruption, tempts others into behavior against conventional morals, and hires lawyers for his law firm who can and do successfully legally defend serious wrongdoers. (Right before Lomax receives the offer, he mounts a successful defense of a public school teacher who is accused of inappropriate sexual touching of an underage female student, but who by certain actions, gives him a strong suspicion that he may indeed be guilty.) One of the first things he did after having accepted the job with the firm was to successfully legally defend a sinister-looking priest of voodoo or santeria by equating his goat-sacrificing with the Jewish practice of kashrut law. (I remember a real case like this playing out in much the same way in NYC’s court system.)

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The seemingly simple, Protestant, Bible-based church Lomax’s mother attends.

When Lomax’s mother, having previously warned him that NYC is a den of sin, failed to talk him out of taking the lucrative law firm job offered to him by a major firm based in NYC, comes to visit him, and then says she wants to return to flyover country because she misses her church, he tells her that there are 20,000 churches in New York. “Take your pick”, he says.  However, her church back home, though superficial in its worship style with vigorous singing and testifying, is in an austere square white building with aesthetics informed by Calvinism; the churches of New York shown in the movie are more “high church” and formal, but in one case, empty and cavernous, the interior space of “the Church of the Holy Hope” with masonry arches overhead, perhaps alienating by design.

The "Church of the Holy Hope" is where Lomax's wife seeks retreat after having an unintended and very personal encounter with "John Milton".

The “Church of the Holy Hope” is where Lomax’s wife seeks retreat after having an unintended and very personal encounter with “John Milton”.

Where's the chicken?

Where’s the chicken?

The Devil, as perfectly played by Al Pacino, goes by the nom de guerre “John Milton”, and to all appearances is merely a man, albeit a highly intelligent and financially successful one; and a sinner, albeit a highly bold and remorseless one. (He is not the only personage in the movie who isn’t quite what he appears to be, but to say more would only be to add spoilers.)  At first it would seem that he is merely human, but perhaps, a sociopath or a narcissist, as are many other humans in high positions.  While “John Milton’s” ability to be conversant in several languages (as demonstrated by his ability to make small talk with the merchants in Chinatown in their own language) might or might not be a sign of supernatural giftedness or superiority over the average human, the fact that he could tell a Hispanic man who threatened him with a boxcutter while on the subway things he could only know about his woman through supernatural means, hints at demonic possession, at the very least.

In his role as a high-powered CEO, “Milton” “spends a lot of time in the air” (on international legal cases); leaving second-in-command Eddie Barzun in charge of many of the day-to-day and support activities of the firm; yet though Barzun is easily led into sins involving greed and lust not uncommon to a man of his class (his past includes “ex-wives” and “a pregnant receptionist”), when he through no direct fault of his own becomes a hindrance to the continued international legal operations of the firm, many of them conspicuously evil, (pressure from a federal-level investigative body called the “Weaver Commission” is hinted at) he is killed by supernatural means: the ‘homeless crazies’ who assault him for his valuables in Central Park are seen to have pursued him while they themselves had become invisible, having been somehow mysteriously set upon him by Milton.

Though Eddie Barzun was a fairly obvious run-of-the-mill sinner, someone somewhere, decided he should have a Catholic funeral in one of NYC's better-looking Catholic Churches.

Though Eddie Barzun was a fairly obvious run-of-the-mill sinner, someone somewhere, decided he should have a Catholic funeral in one of NYC’s better-looking Catholic Churches.

However, before the Big Reveal, there are a myriad of more direct clues that John Milton might not be just an ordinary human being being bad; for instance, he attends Barzun’s funeral, held in an old-style Catholic Church with a lovely traditional-style interior (the Stations of the Cross on the walls are a dead Catholic giveaway); when he puts his finger in the holy water, it is seen to visibly bubble and seem to boil.

(This could be seen as the water’s attempt to flee from the evil, because holy water is blessed water mixed with exorcised salt, which prevents the water from being used for evil. That said, many accounts of exorcism and possession contain claims that contact with holy water seems to physically hurt or repulse the possessing demons.)

DevilsAdvocateHolyWater2DevilsAdvocateHolyWater3It is after the funeral of colleague Eddie Barzun at this rare and beautiful house of worship (alas, such well-adorned Catholic Churches of previous centuries are only becoming more endangered) that Lomax is approached by a government investigator who reveals to him that the law firm at which he and Barzun worked was not merely a large law firm, but had a logistical or financial interest in a number of international enterprises notable for conspicuous worldly evil.

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