Monday, October 29, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Dir. - Sidney Lumet

Viewed: From the Balcony

Sean flies solo and keeps it short:

Sidney Lumet's an interesting director. Like Stephen Frears or Peter Weir his movies don't exactly have a signature to them besides good performances and well crafted scenes. You may be watching a Lumet movie and not even know it -- hell, looking back at his work there's a few in there that I'd forgotten were his. Basically, actors get praise for their work in his films more often than I think Lumet does. Network, Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict and, one of my favorites, Running on Empty -- these are highly regarded movies remembered more for their performances or scripts than they are for the direction. Before the Devil Knows Your Dead isn't going to change that, but it will probably bring back some deserved attention to this craftsman who's been floundering a bit for the past, oh, two decades or so (and I happened to like Q&A).

BTDKYD is a great script delivered with wonderful performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, among others. But of course a great script and perfectly balanced performances don't come together on their own. In telling the story of two brothers who for their own separate reasons decide to rob their parents' "mom and pop" jewelry store, Lumet creates a perfect feeling of unremorseful disintegration. After a hilariously uncomfortable openeing shot involving a naked, sweaty Hoffman, we're thrown right into the botched heist. Like a Shakespeare tragedy, the downfall and destruction of an entire family hinges on bad, dumb luck. From this scene forward the movie stays a step ahead, giving us the characters motivations along the way by hopping back and forth between Hawke's sad-sack divorced dad, Hoffman's dead-end marriage to trophy-wife and oft topless Marisa Tomei (this may be Costanza's new favorite film), and the patriarch -- the brooding Albert Finney. The non-linear technique is well-used here and pulled off rather flawlessly by Lumet.

It's a treat watching Hawke, Hoffman, Finney and Tomei create these characters that can be at once reprehensible but never completely unsympathetic -- though Hoffman arguably takes the hardest fall and towards the end of the movie looses any of that possible sympathy in a series of unpredictable scenes that leads the movie to it's abrupt ending. If there's any criticism I can give this movie it is the way it wraps itself up. I of course can't give too much away but the movie really picks up steam as Hoffman spirals out of control only to sputter in its last couple of moments at the sake of leaving more than a couple of strings dangling in the wind. But 5 minutes doesn't ruin an otherwise flawless movie.

Lumet talks about why he's decided to switch to video:

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