BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

Sidney Lumet’s latest masterpiece, made at the age of 83 (which should not make a difference by the way) reveals an American master in top form. This brilliant, twisted and twisting crime thriller has a plot I don’t want to spoil (the trailers and reviews will tell you more than I). Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman are brothers down on their luck; they both need money (and as Danny DeVito once said via David Mamet: “Everybody needs money! That’s why they call it money!”). They plot a jewelry store robbery. The robbery quickly goes awry (to say the least!), and we see various leap-froggings through the chronology and points of view, which differ occasionally from sequence to sequence. For Sidney Lumet, who made such tough New York films as “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) and “Serpico” (1979), this is a personal triumph. The screenplay by first-timer Kelly Masterson is like a puzzle, where you know the main picture going in, and the Devil’s in the details of all the smaller pieces. Without giving anything away, I will say that, unusual for a “crime picture,” this film has a strong emotional core, which makes for an astonishingly devastating experience. The cast is exemplary, with Hawke as the disheveled deadbeat father who loves his family but can’t pull it together. There’s Marisa Tomei as Hoffman’s dissatisfied wife, and Albert Finney, heartbreaking as their father. As the situation snowballs out of control and the two brothers get in further and further over their heads, watch Hoffman’s face – the distortions he makes on his forehead, and the pain in his eyes tells it all. The old man sitting a few aisles ahead said, as he rose from his chair at the film’s end: “There wasn’t a single character I liked in that thing!” Not the point, sir! Not the point! This was one of the year’s best films. NOTE: For a more recent example of ostensibly the same basic concept, see Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” (2008) with Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell as two British brothers in a similar predicament. Not as strong, but interesting for contrast’s sake.

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