film review: BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Kelly Masterson
Edited by Tom Swartwout
Cinematography by Ron Fortunato
Original Music by Carter Burwell
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan & Rosemary Harris

Article originally appeared: http://www.rabbireport.com/archives/2007/09/nyff-07-review.htm

Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet latest effort, “Before the Devil Knows Your Dead”, is the tautest melodrama I’ve seen in quite some time and at 83, Lumet has lost none of his edge. While I didn’t necessarily find this new picture, which stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, and Rosemary Harris, to be on the par with, “Dog Day Afternoon” or “The Verdict” — both among my all-time favorite films — it certainly kept me in its grip from the moment go. The difference between this one and the other two is that this film is story driven while the others are character oriented. The story is as close to Greek or Shakespearean tragedy as one can get and at times the characters seem to be little more than vehicles propelling the story lines forward. But what story lines there are!

Sidney Lumet, Amy Ryan & Ethan Hawke from BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD; photo credit: Adam Schartoff © 2007

The opening sequence finds married couple Andy (Hoffman) and Gina Hanson (Tomei) in an exceptional moment of blissful passion while vacationing in Brazil and their post-coital dialog reveals a clearly unhappy marriage Andy is a real estate executive with a cushy office over looking Manhattan and an unhappy wife, Gina, who replaces feelings of emptiness with expensive meaningless objects and sex with her brother-in-law, Hank (Hawke). This is as much bliss as the picture is going to offer and over the course of the next 110 minutes there is just a sense of menace and dread. Tomei, naked through most of her scenes, might just get her career back on track with this role. Not sure if that’s a good thing or simply a sad case of what an actress has to do get herself noticed these days. Finney plays Charles, the stoic patriarch. Whoever came up with the idea to cast Albert Finney as Hoffman’s dad had a gem of an idea and the relationship between the two is a key element of this tale.

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