Monday, November 5, 2007

Movie Review: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Sidney Lumet has directed some of my favorite films: Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Prince Of The City, Network, 12 Angry Men. While I'm not quite ready to put Before The Devil Knows You're Dead in that company, it is one of the best movies I've seen this year and one I look forward to seeing again and again. Lumet, perhaps tipping his director's hat at Quentin Tarantino, tells this story out of chronological order and from different perspectives, allowing him to gradually feed the viewer information that changes the meaning of earlier scenes and the characters' motivations for doing what they do. And what characters they are: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are as good as they have ever been, playing siblings who, for very different reasons, are in desperate need of quick money. It doesn't take long for Andy (Hoffman), a wheeler-dealer used to getting what he wants, to convince younger brother Hank (Hawke), who can't hide his need for Andy's approval, that they can solve their cash-flow problems by robbing a mom-and-pop jewelry store. The catch? It's owned by their mom and pop. When the robbery goes horribly wrong, the lives of Andy, Hank and everybody around them are ruined beyond repair. Lumet gets excellent work from the rest of his terrific cast (led by Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Amy Ryan and Rosemary Harris), but you get the impression that the director had something to do with just how great the acting here is. No 83-year-old director a full half century into a film career should be able to make a movie as taut, vital and alive as Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.

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