Saturday, November 24, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

I think Sidney Lumet is a fantastic director. Frequent readers of this space will recognize that. (Network is one of my favorite films and I've written about it ad nauseum. Here, here and here.)

I've been on a Lumet binge in the last year, I've picked up copies of Murder on the Orient Express, Power, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Family Business, The Verdict, Find Me Guilty and a couple of others I'm probably forgetting. And this is in addition to my frequent viewings of Network. (I'm not sure why I haven't grabbed a copy of 12 Angry Men, yet. That movie still knocks my socks off.) Anyway, I've been watching a lot of Sidney Lumet films in the recent past and although I've enjoyed his works in the late 80's, the 90s and beyond, I've felt like they've sort of slipped in quality. Lumet had always been a bit hit or miss but there's no denying that in the 70s the man was on fire. I've learned a lot from him. I've read his books and his screenplays.

When I first heard about his latest film though, I was both excited and worried. Like I said, his films have been enjoyable since the 80s (minus The Wiz of course) but they haven't been masterpieces. Lumet is now 83 years old. Would he still be able to pull off a masterful crime drama of days gone by?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a melodramatic crime drama that can stand side by side with Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon as a classic of the genre. Lumet tells a story about a crime that goes horribly, horribly wrong. With most robbery-gone-bad stories though, the film focuses on the execution of the crime and then watches it unravel. This film starts on the crime and then spends time moving backwards to reveal why the crime went so bad and then overlaps with each character and their fallout from the robbery. Normally, I wouldn't care about robbers and the fallout of a robbery gone wrong, but this is about a family. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers with very real problems. Money problems.

They're convinced that this robbery will solve all of their problems and, since the place is insured, it will be a victimless crime.

Unfortunately guns go off and the problems with the law and other crooks start.

But they still need money and the problems they had before are only getting worse.

Overall, I was wrapped up and engaged in the film in a way I haven't felt watching movies about robberies in a very long time.

And the ending was pitch perfect.

I don't want to give too much away because I really do want all of you who read this to go see it. It truly is a tight, taut melodrama that will punch you in the gut. And I haven't even said word one about the performances. Phil Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei all offer stunning performances in what would seem as the most accurate portrayal I could imagine of a family truly and finally coming apart at the seams. They each inject their familial relationships with an unspoken history that makes you truly believe that they are a family.

It's quite a thing to see.

So. I'm just going to stop now and chide you once more to just go see the movie. If you regret, you can make fun of me in this space like everyone does to Steve. Or something...

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