Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (Seville, 2007) D: Sidney Lumet, w/ Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke. Rating: NNNN; DVD package: NNNN
This came out a couple of weeks ago, and somehow I overlooked it. Foolish me, because it’s one of the best melodramas in years.
Director Sidney Lumet makes a point of calling it a melodrama in both his commentary and the making-of doc. He describes it as “life with the amps turned up to 11,” a story where plot determines character. Lumet’s been in the business over 50 years (he directed Network), so he should know.
Equally, you could call it character-driven suspense. Either way, it’s one of his best. Two brothers rob their parents’ jewellery store, and when it all goes wrong, long-buried and deeply rotten family dynamics rear up to send the story spinning in unexpected directions. By the end, it’s next door to tragedy.
Philip Seymour Hoffman (the dominant brother), Ethan Hawke (the weenie), Albert Finney (their father) and Marisa Tomei (Hoffman’s alienated wife) respond to the story’s surprise twists with unusual acting choices that add depth.
Lumet keeps everybody’s scenes fluid and organic with a two-camera shooting style. His approach delivers few of the big close-ups we expect, but it keeps his implausible story plausibly grounded in the realistic setting.
Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke deliver a fun and funny commentary that provides insights into acting and moves along nicely thanks to Hawke’s skilful prompting of Lumet.
EXTRAS Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke commentary, making-of doc. Widescreen. English, French audio. English subtitles.