Friday, October 1, 2021

Working for the Devil

The Devil's Advocate
Angel Heart (1987)
Many of us have had employers who we doubted were wholly on the up and up. I worked at a movie theater where there were rumors the manager shaved off profits from the box office receipts (I know for a fact he sold expired hot dogs), but what if your employer wasn't just shady but was downright evil?

In John Grisham’s The Firm, a lawyer discovered his firm was a front for the mafia. The two films featured today have even more diabolic bosses (the mafia might work for these fellows). We'll first look at a film which, as in The Firm, features an attorney hired by a law firm that is much more than it seems. The very premise leads one to think of the many jokes about diabolic lawyers. 

In fact, a 19th-century evangelist, Lorenzo Dow, told a story of being on a preaching tour and coming to a the general store in a small town one cold winter night. The town's lawyers were gathered around the pot-bellied stove and listened while Dow told about a recent vision in which he had been given a tour of hell, much like the traveler in Dante's Inferno. One of the lawyers asked what he had seen. "Very much what I see here," Dow said. "All of the lawyers gathered in the hottest place."

1997’s The Devil’s Advocate (directed by Taylor Hackford), stars Keanu Reeves as Kevin Lomax, a small-town lawyer recruited by a high-powered law firm to practice criminal defense law in the Big Apple. The head of the firm goes by the name of John Milton (Al Pacino). No one in the film ever says, “Isn’t John Milton the name of that British poet who wrote Paradise Lost in which Satan plays a prominent role?” trusting the audience to note that obvious allusion.

As the film goes on, the firm asks Lomax to make increasingly questionable moral choices, and the identity of Milton as the devil becomes increasingly obvious. Lomax faces increasing moral and physical peril. 

If only he had listened to his mother. 

Judith Ivey plays Kevin’s mother, Alice, who senses moral peril when her son plans to move to the big city. Alice is active in her local (and well-attended) fundamentalist church where we hear the congregation singing a lively Gospel song (based on Romans 16:19.)

But Lomax is not a part of that church, as we learn when Milton questions Kevin about his mother and her church.

Lomax: My mother raised us, just the two of us. She wasn’t married. She’s a preacher’s kid, she’s pretty tough. She has a church she likes, she spends a lot of time there. When she goes out, it’s to do volunteer work.

Milton: Didn’t rub off the Book? The Church?

Lomax: I’m on parole.

Turns out he might have been much better off sticking to that church of his mother’s.

There is another church featured prominently in the film, used for the funeral of Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones), another member of Milton's law firm and a very bad man. The minister at the service eulogizes Barzoon as a wonderfully moral man, a pillar of the community. This is a church where Milton seems very much at home (though his presence does make the Holy Water boil). That fact alone adversely affects the church’s Steeple Rating negatively, though the church is the place Lomax’s wife Mary Ann (Charlize Theron) seeks comfort after Lomax's boss rapes her,

(Several very beautiful Manhattan churches were used for the production, including the Church of the Heavenly Rest, Central Presbyterian Church, and the Church of the Most Holy Redeemer.)

In 1987’s Angel Heart, private detective Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke), is working for a different sinister boss (or client) who goes by the name of Louis Cyphre (Robert De Niro). Really, I can't understand why the devil in these films can’t be a little more subtle in naming himself. (Lou-Cipher… Get it?) Cyphre hires Angel to track down a man by the name of Johnny Favor.

Angel, like Lomax in our other film, is led down a dark path leading to more and more evil and debauchery. But fortunately for this blog, he encounters a variety of churches along the way, including a church led by a mercenary preacher who tells his congregation, “If you want to show your love for God...Open up your purses, open up your wallets. Some of you are saying, ‘You should end up in a Cadillac’ but if you love me, I should end up in a Rolls Royce.”

At one point, Angel passes a river baptism conducted by a fundamentalist congregation. Cyphre arranges to meet Angel in the pews of what seems to be a very formal church. Angel isn’t pleased at all with this meeting place and lets his client know, swearing up a storm. Cyphre instructs Angel to watch his language, but Angel replies, “I don’t give a F*%$ if this is a church. Churches give me the creeps.”

These two films have churches that seem like relatively healthy congregations and some that give me the creeps. Still, I’m going to give the various churches in these two films a Movie Churches average of Two Steeples.

I don’t usually note this, but readers should be aware that both of these films have scenes with strong language, violence, and sexual content. The Devil’s Advocate received an R rating and Angel Heart received a rare X rating. Just so you know.

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