Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (5/10)
by Tony Medley
This movie starts out with
a disgusting scene of two people rutting in bed while the man, Andy
(Philip Seymour Hoffman), watches in the mirror. So self-absorbed is he
that he doesn't even let the woman, his wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei) watch
with him, which epitomizes why she is driven from the marriage. From
there it gets worse. I can’t think if any reason to recommend this
movie. The story of a jewel theft gone horribly wrong, it is the
Andy convinces his weak,
reluctant brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), to rob a jewelry store in a strip
mall. Too weak to do it himself, Hank gets help and everything goes from
bad to worse.
director Sidney Lumet is trying to make a comeback with this film from
the deplorable Find Me Guilty (2006), and he doesn’t get back
very far here. He starts with three strikes against him as far as I’m
concerned by taking a beautiful, humorous Irish blessing, “May you be in
heaven a full half hour before the devil knows you’re dead,” and uses it
to entitle this dark, dour, depressing dirge.
You would think that after
83 years, Lumet would have figured out that movies without an admirable
protagonist, without someone to root for, have dim prospects to expect
audiences leave in a positive frame of mind. There is not one main
character that could be called admirable.
Further detracting from the
film, without commenting on the moral one might derive from it, are two
very large detriments. The first consists of the many flashbacks Lumet
inflicts on the audience. It seems as if every 15 minutes or so there is
another flashback to tell the story of the robbery from someone else’s
POV, sort of Rashômon-lite (for the record, Lumet directed a TV
version of Rashomon in 1960). But unlike Akira Kurosawa’s
legendary 1950 flashbacks, these are just annoying.
The second drawback is the
total absence of humor. The situation is so depressing that the script
needs something to give a respite from the gloom during its 118-minute
running time. Hitchcock was a master at adding some humor to alleviate
the tension. After his failed attempt at humor in Find Me Guilty,
this outing just reinforces the suspicion that Lumet no longer has that
Speaking of that running
time, this is so slow, and the flashbacks so repetitive, that people
were actually snoring in the audience of my viewing. My watch was almost
worn out from my constant checking to see how close we were to the end.
On the positive side, for
most men, anyway, Tomei, whose character is also having an extra-marital
affair with her brother-in-law, Hank, appears topless throughout the
first half of the film.
The acting is very good.
Aiding Hoffman and Hawke and Tomei are Albert Finney as Andy and Hank’s
father and Rosemary Harris as their doomed mother. Alas, good
performances are not enough to justify foisting this film and this story
(Kelly Masterson) on an audience with a title and cartoon poster that
could entice them into the theater under false pretenses, without
suspecting what it is that they are in for. I wouldn't object so
strenuously if it were properly advertised so that people would know
what to expect, a sordid story of a disfunctional family that, even
though it is slowly told. Not knowing what to expect, my friend found it
so distressful that it caused her to leave the theater with an upset
November 3, 2007