Friday, November 30, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007) [8]

When I think of Sidney Lumet's films, I think of them being expertly crafted and enjoyable but I never happen to think of the man as an auteur. It's that craftsman like precision that really keeps Lumet from having the identifiable style of contemporaries like Scorsese and Altman. After seeing this film, I happen to feel the same way. This is an excellent thriller with some tremendous performances and fantastic moments but still lacks just a little bit.

Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are some brothers who need money. Andy comes up the idea to rob their parents jewelry store, the idea being that it's as close as you can get to the perfect crime. The problem is the robbery doesn't go as easily as planned and the rest of the film goes back and forth between characters and time to tell of the crime's reasons, planning, and consequences. Lumet jumps back and forth into time and his emphasis on character's. One sequence will focus on Hank after the robbery and we get some information that gets thrown about on Andy which is explained more in depth when Andy becomes the focus of the story. This non-linear storyline makes the film much more interesting than if it was told in a straight line. It fractured and frantic pace help re-enforce that the characters feel the same, racing to decipher everything that's going on. My one qualm is that Lumet does this a little too overtly, spelling out this is 'Andy: one week after the robbery' etc. and using a jarring flashing to change perspective. I know the perception of the average moviegoer is that they're a moron but someone of Lumet's stature isn't getting that audience. Give me a little more respect; I can figure out what's going on without having to be told who the story's focusing on now.

The performances here are solid especially Hoffman as the bullying, oily older brother. Ethan Hawke, who I don't care much about, does a good job playing the younger, weaker brother. There are some scenes between the two after everything has unraveled that are just electric, with Hoffman stealing the scene. Hawke is smart enough to know Hank's role and let Hoffman dominate. Albert Finney is there to fill the need of the father, whose relationship with his sons plays a key underlying plot point in the film. As the story progresses and things get more unhinged, the film becomes more than just a heist film. It becomes about family, the bonds that it creates and also the dysfunction that can lasting consequences. There's a lot of baggage between all three of these characters and the robbery becomes a microcosm to explore everyone and their issues. Lumet does a great job of laying all this out even though I'm not quite sold on the end. Even at 83, Sidney Lumet can still show younger filmmakers how to make a entertaining and very good film.

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