144 min., 1997
Written by Jonathan Lemkin/Tony Gilroy
Directed by Taylor Hackford
My rating: ★★★★★
Self love. It’s the all natural opiate.
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Greetings to all you lovely Forced Viewing readers out there. This story has a very simple premise and a subject that has been used in stories since time immemorial. A person lives a simple yet successful life doing what it is they do best and more often than not it is something they also love to do. They are then tempted by the opportunity to step out of the minors and into the starting line up. Once they make this leap, they soon find that the grass isn’t greener on the other side and if it is, that’s because so much shit has been dumped on the lawn that it’s been thoroughly fertilized.
Well, such is the plight of our young, poor, and ambitious defense attorney at law Kevin Lomax, played by Keanu Reeves. I am sure I don’t need to list the movies this man has graced (or trashed) but I will list a few anyway: Dracula (1992), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), and The Matrix Trilogy. We find him defending a male teacher that is on trial for the sexual molestation of a young female student in his class. At some point during the trial, he realizes that his client is not only guilty but a sick, sick
man. Now just how he comes to that revelation is one of those delicious details I will leave unsaid. Kevin is sickened at this revelation but has to keep his game face on so he asks for a short recess. Here is where we meet the fork in the road for Kevin. A conversation takes place with a reporter in the bathroom where Kevin is trying to pull himself together and he gives the clear impression that up until this point Kevin has been on an impressive winning streak in the court room. The reporter is of the opinion that Kevin’s luck has run out and that this case reeked of lost cause as strongly as the Red Line Subway reeks of urine. Kevin, however, walks back
into the courtroom and miracle of miracles, defiantly yet brilliantly defends and wins the case. He is horrified because he knows he has set a
guilty man free yet now that he has drunk the elixir of winning at *any* cost he can not seem to stop.
On this heels of this amazing victory comes the invitation of a lifetime, to come to the big apple and do some work for a huge and extremely successful law firm. This invitation doesn’t come without it’s down side, since Kevin’s dour and bible thumping mother does not want him to go. She begrudgingly gives her blessing and off he goes. After the task he is given is successful, he meets with the head of the law firm for the first time. Enter John Milton played by the great Al Pacino. After a long conversation, where John is feeling out how Kevin feels about a job offer, the golden doors open and they make Kevin an offer he can’t refuse. They offer him a condo in a very exclusive part of town in an even more exclusive building that is really a partner’s perk as well as the knowledge that there will be plenty of money to go along with this new home. Walking around their new digs, it’s obvious that Kevin and Mary Ann, his wife, played by Charlize Theron, are far out of their depth in the big city, but they are so pleased with the knowledge that they won’t have to struggle the way they were in their old life they plunge right in.
I have to say that even though we have only made it into the first 30 minutes of the film, the pacing thus far is excellent. Each piece is put together very careful but no time is wasted on side stories. It is clear what kind of people Mary Ann and Kevin are from the beginning and that is paramount because it is who they become in the wake of this new life that drives this story so well.
It is amazing how well they set this up too because the moment Kevin begins to settle into his new role in the firm, he starts to change. His head is turned by one of the lawyers working there and after meeting her only one time he is already making the “Hey baby, let’s you and I meet in the closet for a few minutes” face at her. This hot blooded red head, Christabella Andreoli is played by Connie Nielsen, whom you may remember from *One Hour Photo* and *Gladiator*. He suddenly doesn’t have the time to be bothered with things at home, even when Mary Ann shows signs that the stress and strain of their new life is becoming too much for her.
I am going to backtrack for a moment because there is an important detail that I must point out here. Because while there is a very real struggle going on with Kevin, Mary Ann is having her own very powerful crisis. She has been left to create a brand new home in this giant blank palette with no support from Kevin. She finds the only friend she has now is the wife of one of there other attorney’s living in the building. Even from the first time you meet this woman, played by Tamara Tunie, she gave me the chills. She was very detached and seems as plastic as an American Express gold card. It was during one of these girl-girl outings that Mary Ann is thoroughly frightened out her wits. She is looking at Tunie’s character’s body as they are trying on lingerie and suddenly she can hear the whispers of someone moaning with passion and hands passing all over this woman’s body under her skin. And if that wasn’t enough, Mary Ann looks her in the face and it warps into a hideously disfigured creature. I’d go so far as to say it looks just plain evil.
Why is this important you might ask? Mary Ann already can sense that there is something very wrong with all the sudden wealth they have acquired. She is realizing that it is coming at the price of no quality time with her husband, eventually no children, and no family since their move left them all behind. Now her suspicions are being confirmed by seeing this woman being warped and twisted by evil before her very eyes.
So back to Kevin, who is now looking at his shattered wife in a mental institution, a shell of her former vibrant self, broken by the final onslaught of evil done by none other than John Milton himself. Kevin’s mother now plays her part to try to comfort her son now that Mary And has been committed. Instead, she finally comes clean about why she didn’t want him to come to New York in the first place; John Milton is his father and she fears him.
After several lemony snickets (also known as a series of unfortunate events), Kevin finds himself in the office in front of what I can only describe as the more awesome yet strangely terrifying wall sculpture I have ever seen.Kevin tries to blame John for all the evil that has befallen him and his wife, but John shows him that everything that happened was because he made the choice for it to turn out the way it did.. John makes it clear that the path Kevin took was created by his own free will. Then he goes on to explain why Kevin is really there and why he was so important. Kevin still looks unconvinced and Pacino launches into what I have to say is one of the more excellent, eloquent, and emotional monologues I have had the pleasure of seeing in cinema. Once Kevin starts showing interest, he gets John to lay out the rest of the deal. And of course there is a twist ending… big surprise there right?
Overall, this movie is so well put together from start to finish that it gives me chills. There isn’t a single place where I think that something wasn’t necessary or that the pacing should have been faster. I love it when a writer can take a story and create a million loose ends, weave a beautiful tapestry, and then tie those loose ends without abusing artistic license or breaking out the dreaded deus ex machina. Pacino is riveting from start to finish. He is intense, devious, and yet so alluring you want
to be the one on his arm as you head up to his penthouse suite. Reeves has a reputation for being strained and jerky with his performances. Sometimes they can be downright painful to watch. I don’t think that is the case for the most part in this film. I think his style of acting will always be a bit odd and even awkward but the writing here and the sheer genius of the plot balanced it out pretty well. Charlize Theron’s character added the sweet to so much bitter. I loved her country innocence and her excitement at their fortune and watching her fall from grace was heartbreaking.
Needless to say you peeps need to see this. That is, if by some strange miracle, you have managed to make it this long without having had the pleasure. Speaking of which, reviewing this for you was all mine (the pleasure that is) and I hope that you all enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed writing this.Have You Read...?