No Lament For Lumet – The Guy’s Still Got The Goods

It’s been a very good week – reviewed below is the third film I’ve seen in a row at the theatre that really lived up to its hype and may end up on my year end top ten. Also nice to report that it is the work of a director than many had long written off – Sidney Lumet. So let’s dig in:

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (Dir. Sidney Lumet, 2007)

After the solid yet fairly unremarkable FIND ME GUILTY (2006) many (including me) expected the 82 year old Lumet, with a career behind him that included such undisputed classics as FAIL-SAFE, NETWORK, DOG DAY AFTERNOON, and SERPICO, to go gracefully into that good night. There’s nothing graceful about the characters and their actions in BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD though. With a economical pacing and frenetic fractured structure that youngsters like Tarentino and Soderbergh would kill for, this heist gone wrong parable is not only one of Lumet’s best movies in possibly decades but is one of the year’s best films. An emotionally detached Andy Hanson (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and his twitching down-on-his-luck brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) decide to knock over a mom and pop jewelry store located in a New Jersey strip mall. Thing is – it’s their actual Mom and Pop’s (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) store – Hanson’s Jewelry – and oh, Hawke is having an affair with Hoffman’s wife (Marissa Tomei). I don’t consider any of that plot info to be spoilers since all of that is revealed in the trailer but don’t worry I won’t spill any more – the build-up and juicy interlocking of vignettes here are so swift and satisfying that nobody needs further briefing.

Titles such as “The Robbery” and “Three Days Before The Robbery” assign sections of the film to the different players (Hawke, Hoffman, And Finney – seems like Oscar winner Tomei picked the short straw) and shifts our sympathies or animosities between them as the plot-lines pile up. There is a fair amount of humor but like in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN it hides in the darkness making audiences cringe at the same time they stifle a giggle. Hawke’s Hank – a desperate dead-beat dad has such a cloud over his head and a wide-eyed puppy dog look (Finney says “he’s still such a baby” at one point) that we are invited to laugh at him but there’s nothing humorous about his older brother Andy. Hoffman’s Andy – a jaded withdrawn real estate exec. with slicked back hair and fine tailored suits is disguising a desperation as deep and scarring as his brother’s. Though Albert Finney, just a little younger than Lumet, appears pretty worse for wear (his mouth is always hanging open and he moves slowly and shakily) he can still bring the intensity as the most affecting character here – he alone may be the heart of this film (sorry again, Marissa). With Lumet’s name attached as director to another project (GETTING OUT set for 2009) it looks like that good night will simply have to wait.

More later…

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