Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

First of all, apologies for the lack of posts lately. I'm trying to cram a lot of work into this week before I go traveling for the holidays and I've hardly seen any new movies. It's annoying.

I enjoyed Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, it's a highly diverting film and well-acted all the way around. It's a good reminder that yes, Marisa Tomei actually deserved her Academy Award for My Cousin Vinny, that Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney are acting legends, and a good sign that Ethan Hawke might have finally outgrown the callowness of his youth and turned into a decent character actor. Add in some fun narrative twists and it's a good night at the movies.

The thing is, I can't really join in on the 'one of the best movies of the year' train that the movie's riding to some extent right now, because I found it good but not great.

(SPOILERS) It's your standard noir outline - losers who are brothers (Hoffman and Hawke) try to score a heist but in the process muck it up - with a domestic twist, that the jewelry store they target for a hold-up is owned by their own parents and in the process Mom gets a bullet in the belly and Dad, distraught, tries to figure out who's to blame, only to discover that the culprits are closer than he thinks. Great concept, okay execution. The basic problem is that the premise is crying out for Shakespeare-level dialogue and character development but ultimately we don't really ever find out that much about what Philip Seymour Hoffman's problems are or why he hates his father so much or how it happened that Tomei would be sleeping with Hawks, so that the drama winds up underdeveloped from the get-go. On top of that, while I don't agree with Armond White that Sidney Lumet is a terrible director, I do have to agree with him that the visuals of this movie are fairly undernourished - considering that we're working with such tragic subject matter, a little more chiaroscuro would have helped, I think.

I don't want to give the idea that I disliked the movie, because I did find it entertaining and well-made, but all in all I'd say that I prefer Lumet's last film, the Brechtian courtroom drama Find Me Guilty, as a richer and weirder cinematic journey.


Hedwig said...

I fully agree: I enjoyed this film, but after reading so many lyrical reviews it was a disappointment. I suppose it might be that it tries to mix noir and melodrama, and pulling that off requires a defter hand (and maybe a bit less "look! I'm playing with continuity!" bravado)

Jeff McMahon said...

I don't think the movie suffers from a lack of directorial deftness but that the script simply isn't very deep. Mayhaps the writer spent too much time on the timeshifting and not enough on the backstory and motivations.

cjKennedy said...

I STILL haven't reviewed this one.

It's not in my Top 10 either, but I enjoyed it.

And as I've said elsewhere, the continuity tricks worked for me just fine.

As Jeff said, a stronger background would've been nice because that's what the film was about after all in my mind. The robbery was just a turning point. The interest was all in the build-up and the aftermath.

As it was, there was enough for me to like it, but more would've been better.

The high point was Philip Seymour Hoffman for his frightening and sad embodiment of middle aged male failure, disappointment and rage.

The low point was the ending that made sense but didn't feel developed enough to be believable.

I've found myself strenuously defending this movie to haters but not quite agreeing with the people who loved it.

Sort of like Diablo Cody.

glimmer said...

i really wasn't to bothered that we didn't find out more about why the hoffman character hated his dad.the specfics or whatever...

and wasn't the fact that tormei chracter may have been sleeping with the hawke character because he finds her sexy or whatever said enough. the fact that she thought this would be more of a kicker to the hoffman chracter.(note when she mentione who she's having an affair the usual has an anwser fro everything hoffman chracter had nothing to say)

and the hawke character is will the more traditional attractive of the two.could that be reason too???

but really i don't give a damn. but the trad views on the shelf.

the things you mention for me wouldn't have mane the movie much better anyway and would have taken upo screen time that could have been better used on well anything. or not mentioning them at all. :)

sorry jeff the things you wanted to see/more info on usually being considered so important etc.

is probably reason so few things work for me. because i didn't think the lack of info was a flaw.i didn't think needed spelled out was needed at all.

sorry, the geek has spoken.

Jeff McMahon said...

I didn't need things 'spelled out' for me, what I'm saying is that the film ultimately lacked depth for me. The material was entertaining, but thin, and tragedy only works when the characters are fully fleshed out and completely human. A little more information about what it was in this family's past that made Hoffman so resentful, or Finney distant, and so on could have only enriched the drama.

glimmer said...

i guess i didn't need the additional info that would have made the film better for you.

maybe it's easy enough for me to believe parent and son just didn't get along or like each other.

hell is that/that rare now ???

i didn't need reasons.and it may have been better that either telling way/nor showing why wasn't attempted.

and considering what you think of the script.it woulds have surely failed in your eyes anyway/most likely.

and have made an almost 2 hour movie longer.and we wouldn't want that would we ???

i guess the only thing i sw in this movie as relly tragic was what happened to the mother....

and yes i liked 'look i'm playing with continuity'/timeshifting bits...

for a film/story that had a bit of 'this story has been told/a million times vibe to it'

it was cool addition.if not essential.

and the timeshifting stuff was mostly in the beginnig.so deal with it. :)

so guess i consider 'complete humans' optional. and i liked neither 'juno' nor 'no country'.

the new breed of movie fan is *here* :)

sorry jeff.sorry hedwig,sorry craig.sorry somehow...

but i've got to represent.

sort of like how diablo cody isn't.

sort of like those kids no one cares about...