BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD                                                              

A Gotham Dante Devises A Familial Inferno, Via Lumet

The Popcorn Reel Movie Review: "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead"

By Omar P.L. Moore/October 26, 2007

Hell And Horror In A Family Handbasket: Ethan Hawke as Hank, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Andy, in Sidney Lumet's "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead", which opened in New York and Los Angeles today, and will expand to other select U.S. cities soon.  (Photo: ThinkFilm)
An excellent film with a great title, directed by Sidney Lumet, one of the legendary American filmmakers still left -- who crafts a different but no less immediate film about New York City, a city which in "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" is actually a smaller character than normal for Lumet, in his Greek tragedy that features spellbinding performances from both Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, as Andy and Hank respectively, brothers who struggle to pull off the most unholy and devilish concoction: the robbery of their own parents' jewelry store, situated in New York's Westchester County.  "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" opened today in New York and Los Angeles and makes its way to other select cities including San Francisco over the next few weeks.

Of all Mr. Lumet's film's performers, it is Albert Finney, the veteran maestro, who is a revelation as Charles, the father of these two miscreants in crime.  Masterfully subtle, Mr. Finney is quietly profound as the father that Andy in particular never knew.  Marisa Tomei stars as Gina, Andy's discontented wife, who has been trying in vain to get Andy to not take her for granted.  The film opens with a sexual encounter -- and oddly enough, the way in which the two people we see are filmed -- for some reason it appears at first as if they are having an affair, but they are later revealed to be who they are. 

Mr. Lumet, an expert at making the idea and ideals of family into powerful, astounding and achingly complicated drama on the big screen, doesn't disappoint here either, though the editing by Tom Swartwout is rugged in some areas, even as the film's visual tone and style (cinematography by Ron Fortunato) represents a bona fide attempt to accentuate fissures in the family.  Where prior Lumet films like "Q&A" and "Dog Day Afternoon" used New York City as a jumping off point for teeming and tumult, "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" mutes the Big Apple's foreboding architectural presence to magnify the intense familial discord and tension that frames this supremely powerful film, and is told in flashback in a "Rashomon"-type perspective that enhances the film's weight and strength.  Mr. Lumet hardly needs this technique for "Devil" to succeed, for on its own merits his film is a force of nature, but the Kurosawa device is a technical narrative wrinkle that hardly damages the pace and mood of the film, which plays as a Shakespearean cautionary tale of revenge that might even make Tony Soprano blush -- not because of an excess of violence -- but because of a bald-faced betrayal and breaking of family code.  Loyalty, integrity and the family name may mean much or little at all by the time this "Devil" is through.  Carter Burwell's music echoes throughout the soundtrack with a cold and ominous feel, and fits very well with the Machiavellian workings of family as underlined by Kelly Masterson's stunningly good screenplay.

Rosemary Harris is wonderful as Nanette, the matriarch of this deeply troubled family.  Amy Ryan also features as Martha, and plays a small role.  Ms. Ryan is on something of a roll over the last week or two with "Gone Baby Gone" (which opened last week) and in her appearance here, and in another film that opened today, "Dan In Real Life".  A stage actor by trade, Ms. Ryan is destined for big things on the silver screen, and while she makes only a few ripples here, "Gone Baby Gone" only hints at what's to come for her, as does the story in this new film by Sidney Lumet, one of the grand, great film directors in American history, who is yet to truly get the credit and acclaim he thoroughly deserves.

"Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language.  The film's duration is one hour and 57 minutes, and opened today in New York and Los Angeles.  Mr. Lumet's film will open in select U.S. cities including San Francisco over the next several weeks.  The film also features Michael Shannon, Aleksa Palladino and Blaine Horton.

Copyright The Popcorn Reel.  2007.  All Rights Reserved.





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