The connecting thread of intrigue lies in the familial connections that are put at stake. There is Andy and Hank, whose sibling rivalry expands into Biblical proportions of the tempter and the tempted. Their strained relationship shows that for every diabolical one with a plan, there is another indecisive one who is too weak to resist it. There is also Andy’s marriage to Gina (Marisa Tomei), which is passionate and sensual in Rio but gloomy and lifeless back home. Finally, there are the two brothers’ parents, Charles (Albert Finney) and Nanette (Rosemary Harris), whose close involvement I will leave unrevealed.
The 83-year-old Sidney Lumet is one of the longest working veteran directors around and this film shows that he has kept up with the times while never forgetting his roots. He serves his actors well here and draws precise performances from his cast, but what is most fascinating about him is his subtle camera work. He knows when to pull in and pull out his camera to display varying levels of claustrophobic tension (as he did in the perennial classic, 12 Angry Men) and he shows that mastery here when he varies camera angles to shoot a single conversation as filtered through different characters’ perspectives.
As accomplished as the film is, the movie just stops short of being an all-out masterpiece with an ending that brings a little too much undue finality. I must tread carefully here but I will say that there is one particular element that I wish was more fleshed out than just talked about. And in a story where almost every single misdoing, no matter how stupid or cruel, feels like it contains at least a shred of vulnerability lurking beneath, the final blow somehow feels too steely and chilling.
The film’s title comes from an Irish toast, “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.” The implication of that phrase underscored the flawed thinking of Al Pacino’s Sonny in Dog Day Afternoon and underlines the thoughts of Andy and Hank in this film. They think that committing a perfect, victimless crime will be their highway to bliss. Of course, as Lumet commonly explores in his films, crimes are rarely perfect and never victimless and the wages of sin is death.