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  Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Keep It In The Family
Year: 2007
Director: Sidney Lumet
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Sarah Livingston, Brían F. O'Byrne, Rosemary Harris, Blaine Horton, Arija Bareikis, Leonardo Cimino, Lee Wilkof, Damon Gupton
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: After enjoying the best sex they've had in years, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) lie back and observe it must be down to their holiday in Rio, but this serves to remind Gina maybe things are not as good as they used to be. However, they're about to get a whole load worse as soon Andy's parents' jewelry store is robbed on a quiet Saturday morning, just as his mother (Rosemary Harris) is opening for the day. The robber is extremely aggressive, but when she gets the chance she pulls a gun on him - a big mistake...

Director Sidney Lumet's last film, made when he was in his eighties, bore all the hallmarks of his character based drama, taking its time to explore the personalities of each of the four main focuses of the story, but for a man of his age, and after a collection of works recently before it which had looked like the work of an ageing filmmaker, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead appeared filled to the brim with vim and vigour. Some put that down to the ease he took to shooting with digital technology, but it could have simply been the best script he had helmed in years, what looks like a sprawling crime thriller which then grows more intent on its purpose the longer it continues.

The editing helped as well, with the plot taking the form of zipping back and forward in time, all revolving around the store robbery which sends shockwaves of tragedy through the movie. So after we have seen Hoffman and Tomei lustily going at it (certainly some had their objections to seeing him in the buff, no matter how accomplished an actor he was), we are plunged straight into the crime which ends with Andy's mother lying, dying from a gunshot wound, but the robber dead in the street thanks to her opening fire in panic. But here's the key element: the getaway driver is Andy's brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), and they were both in on the scheme from the start.

Indeed, it was all Andy's idea, as we discover, as he is not the capable businessman we assumed he was at the beginning, being as he is a drug addict who needs easy money which he sees as lying within the family business. Everyone here is circling the drain, but is it safe to blame Andy for the inception of these personal disasters? Yes, it was conducted at his bidding and with his planning, but he wasn't working alone, so perhaps we can allow Hank to shoulder some of the guilt; whatever, by the end it's all gone so horribly wrong with more bodies than a Shakespeare play scattered around (well, almost) that the only thing we can be clear on is crime does not pay, which was the sort of message we could have expected from a former theology student.

Which screenwriter Kelly Masterson was, having turned his hand to years of penning plays and eventually getting this script accepted for a movie: you have to credit him for enhancing what could have been a wallow in misery for the energy it brought out in Lumet's stylings. Along with the three middle-aged misfits (Gina is having an affair with Hank behind Andy's back), the fourth corner of this disaster is the boys' father Charles, played by a bug-eyed Albert Finney who can barely believe this is happening to him, and the more he finds out the more apopleptic he becomes. It could be that this went over the top - you half expect it to bear a credit that it was based on a true story, it's that nature of film - but the cast kept it together, and the manner in which what comes across as a messy selection of incidents at the start, something the experimental in places editing does nothing to dispel, draws together to reveal that not a single plot point was superfluous or even out of place made for an absorbing time. Music by Carter Burwell.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Sidney Lumet  (1925 - 2011)

Esteemed American director who after a background in theatre moved into television from where he went on to be the five times Oscar nominated filmmaker behind some of the most intelligent films ever to come out of America. His 1957 debut for the big screen, 12 Angry Men, is still a landmark, and he proceeded to electrify and engross cinema audiences with The Fugitive Kind, The Pawnbroker, Cold War drama Fail-Safe, The Hill, The Group, The Deadly Affair, The Offence, definitive cop corruption drama Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon (another great Al Pacino role), Network, Equus, Prince of the City, Deathtrap, The Verdict, Running On Empty and his final film, 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Often working in the UK, he also brought his adopted home town of New York to films, an indelible part of its movies for the best part of fifty years.

 
Review Comments (2)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
15 Oct 2012
  I'm not sure shifts back and forth in time served the story all that well. Nevertheless this was the best script Lumet had in years. It's nice that he went out with something close to his best. Albert Finney delivers a towering performance.

A minor quibble: Andy says he's suffered bouts of impotence, but that opening scene suggests otherwise. Why make that a plot point?
       
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
Date:
15 Oct 2012
  I assume the opening scene is from a time when his impotence wasn't so much of a problem - it's never completely specified when it's from, except it's a holiday in Rio (given the way the film ends, it would have been some time before the robbery).
       


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