Is it just me, or is Al Pacino cinema's greatest Satan?

Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate (1997)
(Image credit: Warner)

It’s understandable why the Devil is such a popular character for screenwriters. It’s the ultimate antagonist, hellbent on wreaking havoc and corrupting any protagonist in their way. Plus: instant brand recognition and zero pesky copyright issues.

But which lowly mortals dare fill the smouldering shoes of Old Nick? Amid a sea of misfires, a few show promise: Jack Nicholson (The Witches of Eastwick), Peter Stormare (Constantine) and Viggo Mortensen (The Prophecy) have all held their own in the role. But only one actor’s bombastic style for a period of his career was the perfect marriage of man and Beast.

The Devil’s Advocate’s (1997) high-flying, charming, hedonistic John Milton fits ’90s Al Pacino like a glove. He’s charming with a sly smile and twinkling eyes that bore into the very soul of a street thug looking for trouble on the subway; next thing you know, the thug’s heading home to murder his philandering wife and best friend.

With the coiffured Pacino filling the tailored suit of the role it seems 100 per cent natural that Lucifer makes New York his home and uses the law to poison humanity. Whether it’s goat sacrifice or plain old murder, he’ll defend the crime with the goal of choking Heaven with the stench of the acquittals of the guilty.

No other movie Satan has revelled as much in the pure fun of being the incarnation of such a phenomenal creature in human form. After 1990’s Scent of a Woman won him an Oscar, Pacino’s crescendo of SHOUTING in movies reached its midpoint in Heat with “A GREAT ASS!” But the absolute pinnacle is his epic speech here, as he declares himself a “FAN OF MAN” and God an “ABSENTEE LAAAANDLORD!”

It’s a pitch-perfect performance, nailing the required tone as Pacino chews the scenery so much that it literally comes to life around him, with CG angels thrashing and writhing.

A Devil who dances after being shot and pokes his finger in the church font to watch the holy water boil just because he can is an Evil One with a sense of humour. After all, shouldn’t sinning be fun? Or is it just me?

Paul Tanter is a British director, writer, and producer. He produces and directs the cult Amazon Prime series Age of the Living Dead, and Fox's No Easy Days. He has also written, directed, and produced over 15 feature films, alongside several graphic novels. He's also written about movies for publications including Total Film, Digital Filmmaker, and Film Stories Magazine.