With the week about Justice here at Lune Station, I decided to talk about the movie I think best represents Law: The Devil’s Advocate.
I, Artemis, am a lawyer – yes, I studied all those years, got my diploma, got my BAR, work with it and etc. – and I can safely say that this movie represents the profession on a horribly real manner.
And all that with clearly supernatural elements that build the movie.
Although it represents so well the profession – in my opinion – the movie also represents clearly how the Justice system can be. After all, Justice is indeed done on courts or the one who wins is the one with the better persuasion power?
I watched this movie even before I got into college and, as the years went by, I saw it showed itself even more real. Among the Justice system, it’s easy to sell your moral values for the highest bidder.
Today, our train leaves to New York, where we’ll follow the career of a young lawyer who, little by little, notices that the opportunity that seemed to have fallen from heavens isn’t as divine as it seems.
The Devil’s Advocate – About the Movie
Released in 1997, the movie is an adaptation from a book with the same title by the author Andrew Neiderman, directed by Taylor Hackford and considered a mix of horror, drama and thriller (nothing new under the roofs of law firms/legal departments – I’m sorry for the joke). The cast counts with great names, as Keanu Reeves, Al Pacino, Charlize Theron and Connie Nielsen on the main roles.
Following Kevin Lomax (Keanu Reeves), we see the story of a young lawyer from Florida who, because he’s extremely talented and efficient at his job, receives the proposal to work at a great law firm in New York, whose owner is John Milton (Al Pacino) – moving there with his wife, Mary Ann (Charlize Theron).
Because of the high society lifestyle both start to live because of the new job – and high salary – of Kevin, the lawyer wants to prove he can be excelent at his job even more.
That greed from Kevin, and also vanity by receiving so many compliments and prosperity because of his job, makes him blind around the motivations and culpability of his clients. Kevin, as the movie shows, isn’t interested on a fair trial for his clients – he is interested in “winning” the case, that means, making his clients walk out as innocents, even if they were guilty.
The firs example we have of that is right at the start of the movie: Kevin is defending a teacher asccused of sexual abuse by one of his minor student’s and, in order to win the case, the lawyer humiliates the girl, destabilizing her in front of the court so her testimony wouldn’t be used.
Yes, Kevin wins the case. But he knows his client is guily, apart from humiliating a victim that has already beem through humiliation enough (we saw something similar recently here in Brazil, right? Also, with a case of raping, on which the victim was completely humiliated and treated as the most unhumane manner possible).
I’m already breathing deep ’cause I know this is gonna get me mad , but we still go on.
Under the expenses of an innocent girl, probably ending any future she could have, Kevin gets his big opportunity to go to New York with his wife in order to work for Milton.
The next cases he gets follows the same dubious morality – are his clients guilty of their crimes or not? Kevin would be interested on that? Or would he be more interested in defending them at all costs, abandoning his own moral and ethics for fame and fortune?
Considering we live in a capitalist society with an increasingly narcisistic culture turned to the cult of your own ego, we can’t say the answers to the questions above are easy. Or better yet, they are easy, but taking them in real life is much more complicated then in hypothetical situations.
And that’s how Kevin’s paradise starts to turn upside down – his wife seems to be the only one who notices the weird things happening around them as Kevin moves forward on his career, blind to all moral and focusing only on personal gain. And the consequences start to get more and more serious and terrible for the couple, not only for him.
Between supernatural happenings and moments of undeniable truth, one starts to question the sanity of the characters – would they all be on their perfect mental state? Is he right? Is she mad? Or is she really right and Kevin is in danger? Who is Milton after all? Acting only with greed and closing your own eyes to ethics on a profession like this is correct?
How far would someone sell their soul only to get what they want?
The Devil’s Advocate and Justice on the Real World
The movie brings questionings and situations much more complex that unfold on an athmosphere of tension and horror – with an ending with the devil, antichrist, bloody deaths and absolution.
It’s worth to check out the great actings on it, specially Al Pacino’s and Keanu Reeves’ (I’m an incurable Keanu fan, I already warn you). The plot is intrincate and needs attention – but, if you lose some information here and there, you can still understand the end.
But now you must be wondering: Artemis, if the movie has so much supernatural stuff – and even a plot of antichrist! – how do you think it represents the Legal system so well?
I am glad you asked.
My opinion is according to the experiencces I lived until now, how much contact I had with the Legal system and the things I lived. Honestly, I hope my opinion changes in the future, as I mature and discover new realities. Up until then, however, my opinion is as follows.
It’s very easy to sell your own morality and ethics when working with Law – specially as a lawyer.
Note that I said “Law”: meaning, Judges, Prosecutors, General Attourneys, Assistants, Interns… I believe everyone is included, because the system that is instituted keeps on working the same way, being lived and passed on by those who work with it.
It’s an omissive system or openly corrupt, with a Justice that certainly isn’t blind. When we say that Justice doesn’t see, it means, theoretically, there’s no difference between social classes, purchase power, skin colour, gender, sexuality and etc. – but the reality is completely the opposite.
On the Justice system, because of the nature of the problems treated on it, it’s usual to put a price on your own ethics: would you defend a pedophile for five thousand bucks? What about five hundred? And if someone offered you almost a million?
That’s the point of The Devil’s Advocate that I think is so cruelly real.
Keanu Reeves’ character isn’t just a character: there are thousands of lawyers like him, who don’t care about effectivelly bringing Justice, but to win money – and a lot, by the way – at any cost.
Many people say my argument doesn’t make sense, because everyone has the right to defend themselves – and I agree completely: everyone has the right to defend themselves. Just like the role of the lawyer is to make sure their client has a fair trial.
So, would it be fair if the client the lawyer knows to be guilty to walk free in their trial?
That’s where it gets complicated. You’re going to tell me “but Artemis, no one hires a lawyer to get arrested” and yes, you’re right. No one hires a lawyer to get arrested. But no one hires a lawyer to make sure their own trial will be fair for the crime they committed: lawyers are hired so they can walk free.
Is that the Justice we so defend?
Remembering that, the more money the person has to spend, the better will be their defense and the greater the probability to win. That’s why we see so few people from high society with good education arrested for their crimes: not because they don’t do it, but because they have the money to pay for their own absolution.
It’s as if the decision is sold only for those who have the means to get rid of their crimes – again, almost as the famous indulgences of the Catholic Church during Middle Ages.
As an example, I’m taking a super recent and very much talked about Brazilian case: the Mariana Ferrer case.
I think everyone who has social media and follow the news got to know about the absurd decision and trial of such a sensitive case. A rape is something that leaves the victim traumatized and fragile – being able even to be treated as confidential in Brazil, only to stop exposing the victim.
(after all, it’s because of reasons like shame, denial, fear and many others that many rape victims remain silent – men or, mostly, women)
On Mariana’s case, the trial was a real horror show. The defense lawyer, to strengthen his thesis and win the case, didn’t use the image of his client to build his arguments: he preferred to humiliate and accuse the victim, as if she was guilty for the crime against her.
I had a teacher at school that used a good technique to make us put ourselves on the shoes of the other: if it was your daughter, would you like for her to be treated like that?
The worst is that, as written in a BBC article about the case, lawyers say that this type of treatment towards rape victims is usual.
“To Juliana Sá de Miranda, associate of the Criminal area of Machado Meyer Advogados, the attack to the victim is usual in case of sexual vioence in Brazil. “It’s common to try to deconstruct the image of victim on rape crimes and sexual assault. They talk about the clothes, the victim’s behaviour, to try to convince the judge that she consented with the act. The victim usually ends up having to defend themself because they start to feel accused and not a victim anymore”, says Juliana.”
“Unfortunately it’s common to belittle the victim as a defense thesis in sexual crimes”, affirms a Criminal judge from São Paulo, that works for almost 30 years on the area and was heard by BBC News Brasil. “It’s common to try to invert the proof, but to the level that got on this case I’ve never seen”, says the judge.”– Parts of the BBC article – Caso Mariana Ferrer: Desmerecer vítima é comum em casos de estupro, relatam advogados – Translated from Portuguese by Artemis
There is nothing common about it. There is nothing fair. What happened is a trivialization of a behaviour based on pricing ethics, in order to sustain the greed and victory at all costs narcisism – not caring about what is right or wrong anymore; the consequences to the victims or accused: what matters is if the client who paid for their own absolution has it and walks completely free.
In my point of view, this is not the role of a lawyer. This is not the role of a judge. This is not the role of Justice.
As Law deals with many complex themes – such as the Mariana Ferrer case – it’s also easy to demand high prices for the defense. After all, anyone who will abandon their own moral values to defend their client, only will do it if the payment is proportionally good. It’s a commerce of an area that shouldn’t exist.
I am in favour of fair trials. That the accused have assured their human rights and defense rights. But I’m not in favour of dehumanizing victims and beautiful flourished arguments so that a criminal walks unpunished for their actions.
That’s why I think The Devil’s Advocate is one of the movies that best represents the profession and the world of those who deal with Law. Apart from the supernatural plot, it’s a great metaphor – sometimes not that much a metaphor – about how it’s easy to sell your own soul in exchange for fame and fortune.