Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Before the Devil Knows Your'e Dead

A few days after I had watched a TV during a housesitting gig without it exploding, I was back on my home turf. I hadn't seen anything in a few days, so I decided to pop in an unwatched screener, Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Against my better judgement, I missed out on this gem when it was in theaters, opting to watch Noah Baumbach's Margot at the Wedding, which was like watching a bleaker, bitchier version of Interiors. Also a friend saw Before the Devil and hated it, which gave me second thoughts. Then again, this same friend laughed uproariously at Norbit, so....

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead tells the story of two sad-sack brothers, Hank (Ethan Hawke), a divorced, penniless dad, and Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a real estate attorney whose Wall Street hotshot routine is all smoke and mirrors.

Andy convinces Hank to rob a "mom and pop" jewelry store, a gig he assures his younger brother will go off without a hitch and net them $600,000. Of course, it goes disastrously wrong and soon the brothers struggle to cover their tracks and make right with their father (Albert Finney, excellent here).

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead isn't a typical caper movie because of Lumet and screenwriter Kelly Masterson. Lumet's style is very steady, very methodical. By eschewing quick editing and quick cuts, he allows Hank and Andy to stew in their own juices, making the movie that more compelling. And Masterson's script really is about the different variations of loserdome. Hank is such a coward that he recruits his scumbug friend to do the robbery, and Hawke (terrific here) plays the role like he's perpetually a day late and a dollar short. Meanwhile Andy is a power tie cliche. He's doing lines of cocaine in his office, and his smoking hot wife (Marisa Tomei) is seemingly around just for show. He doesn't even have the money to back the illusion.

The movie is out on DVD now, and it's a must-see. The acting is first-rate, the storyline is quietly powerful, and you get to see Tomei topless.

Some may not find the third option appealing, but you should still watch the movie.

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