Friday, August 22, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Sidney Lumet | 2007 | 117 min | US

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play Andy and Hank, two brothers who possess veneers of success and failure, respectively. Both are in serious financial trouble, however, and when Andy devises a plan to get them out of their holes Hank seizes the opportunity. But what is intended to be an easy insider job results in the death of their mother, and the shock waves that follow irreparably change the lives of everyone around them.

Though not a perfect film, it is a solid effort. Sidney Lumet proves capable, of course, although the stylistic flourishes of Devil seem slightly out of touch. Jumping around the timeline seems like an attempt to keep up with current film, though it is unnecessary, slightly clumsy, and not so current at all. The story ultimately follows a linear progression, and we learn nothing more by being thrown back and forth along the way. Another issue with the pacing is that the ending feels strangely truncated. There is a wide and obvious gap begging for closure while another thread is closed up neatly. A bit of an irritation.

Hoffman turns in his standard rock-solid performance as the "successful" son who's addictions have begun outpacing his lifestyle. He elevates the material and those around him considerably. Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney do terrific work, and even Hawke seems back on point playing opposite Hoffman. The story doesn't allow any big surprises (the biggest shock is in the opening minutes of the film), but the film is even and assured, despite a couple stylistic missteps. The performances are what push Before the Devil Knows You're Dead into the company of very good contemporary crime films.

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