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Movie Review: Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

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The 83-year-old veteran filmmaker Sidney Lumet has created a unique melodrama that looks at the darkest side of human nature and family relationships. This is his 45th film and he is perhaps more vital in his work now than he was in his earlier years. In this intense thriller packed with non-stop surprise murders, adulteries, embezzlement, drug usage, and blackmail, the crafty and visionary director does what is expected of him — he captivates the audience.

The film opens with a jewelry store robbery gone bad, causing the robber's and shopkeeper's deaths. We quickly flash back to Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a financial broker who is being pressured by a random audit of his company that will uncover him as an embezzler. Andy has been living a reckless life and spending too much money on his drug habit and his trophy wife Gina (Marisa Tomei). With his back against the wall and up to his neck in problems, he decides to plan a jewelry store robbery with his dim-witted married brother Hank (Ethan Hawkes), who is having an secret affair with Gina. The plan is to rob the family's jewelry store that is run by their parents Charles and Nanette (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris). Hank hires an armed and reckless thug named Bobby (Brian F. O'Bryne) to accompany him on the heist.

There are many flashbacks and every scene is shown through the eyes of each character which gives us several points of view. After the film I was fortunate to be part of a Q & A with Sidney Lumet and he explained that "melodrama has very wide range." He said that "the story ask the viewer to suspend disbelief and to accept more and more outrageous circumstances and behavior. In really remarkable melodrama, the events of the story unfold quickly and without warning. Time is short and the pressure cooker is really cooking. There is no time to give the character a background or to deal with his past. The storytelling is fast, lean, and aggressive. Anything that does not advance the story is unimportant."  Kelly Masterson originally wrote this script, but Lumet rewrote it and chose to shoot it in high definition digital video rather than on film.

Hoffman is one of America's best actors and his incredible breadth of talent makes him perfect as the the misguided mastermind of the crime. This allows Hawkes to stretch his range as the weak-minded brother. The supporting cast, including Marisa Tomei as the adulteress wife, and Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris as the family patriarch and matriarch, was brilliant. These characters were unsympathetic, despicable and naive, but it did not prevent me from responding to them.

I'm confident that this impressive film will be nominated for an Oscar or two.

Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Running time: 116 minutes
Release date: October 26, 2007 (limited) and November 2, 2007 (wide)
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Distributor: THINKFilm
MPAA Rating: R

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