2007-11-16 / Community

'Before The Devil Knows You're Dead' - Sidney Shines In The Dark

MovieScope
Review By Robert Snyder

Now 83, Sidney Lumet has made 44 films in his half century as a movie director. Most of them ("12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico," "The Verdict") are classics. His latest, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," may be his best, or certainly right up there.

It is the work of a master dancing at dizzying heights, but maintaining complete control. Written by playwright, first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson, the film takes us deep into the dark heart of pure evil, as two brothers scheme to rob their parents' strip-mall jewelry store. Quickly becoming the devil's playthings, the siblings make every mistake conceivable, with results so tragic that Oedipus would be shocked.

A real estate accountant with an expensive drug addiction, Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is desperately in need of cash. His "baby" brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke) is also drowning in debt and way behind on child support. Andy concocts a "surefire" plan to knock off Mom and Dad's shop, without personal repercussions, because insurance will satisfy any loss.

Abullying coward, Andy hands the dirty work of actually doing the job to Hank who, in turn, chickens out, enlisting lowlife thug Bobby (Brian F. O'Byrne) to bash his way through the robbery. Little do they know that Mom (Rosemary Harris) would be minding the store that Saturday morning and not an aging near-sighted clerk. Mom has a gun, as does Bobby, and the guts to use it, but not before the robber has effectively fired off a round.

Strategically designed, the story retells itself in and out of time, from different points of view, building tension and clarity, as the dramatic deck of cards tumbles into oblivion. At no point does Lumet let confusion obscure the narrative. The acting embers are stoked far beyond the boiling point. Hoffman, Hawke and Albert Finney as the father convey family dysfunction of mammoth proportions. It's a Eugene O'Neill world that Lumet knows well, having successfully brought "Long Day's Journey Into Night" to the screen in 1962.

This is a movie not to be missed, where even lesser roles are played to perfection, in particular that of Gina by an ultra-hot Marisa Tomei, as the wife of Andy and Hank's secret mistress.

With "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," the octogenarian filmmaker appears to be on a wild roll, having helmed what could be the best film of 2006 and his 50-year career.

Maybe he'll win his second lifetime achievement Oscar.

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