When LED ZEPPELIN released "In Through The Out Door" in 1979 (their last studio album) - the famous design company HIPGNOSIS provided them with six different album covers hidden behind outer brown paper bags (the sleeves were identified as A, B, C, D, E and F on the spines). The wordless cover shot is a photo of a man sat on a barstool lighting a piece of paper with a match while five other people watch him do it - a barman, drinkers, a hooker in the corner over by the jukebox etc. So each of the six sleeves is the man lighting the piece of paper - but from their viewpoint - front (barman), sideways (drinker), behind (hooker)...
I mention all of this because Sidney Lumet's 2007 "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" is the cinematic equivalent. The bulk of the film is a jewellery heist that goes disastrously wrong - but told from different angels and at different times. We get the day of the robbery, three days before the robbery, hours after the robbery. And each time we revisit a scene - we see the same stuff and people - but with more information presented to us that shows how and why the whole thing came apart - and more importantly - the truly horrible consequences that follow on from lies and greed.
30-something New Yorker's Andrew and Hank Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) have major financial problems. Hank (Andy's younger brother) has a daughter with his embittered and estranged wife Martha (Amy Ryan) who keeps demanding alimony payments and trips to The Lion King that he simply can't afford. Andy is adrift - his job - his love life - his kid - and his general lack of spunk towards people and decisions are quickly making him look like and feel like a loser. His older and considerably cockier brother Andy works for a real estate company and gives the illusion of wealth and control. But he's fiddling client accounts and regularly raiding the cash box to feed his recreational habit with a local dealer who puts heroin in his arm in a plush apartment and asks no questions (permanently dressed in a silk nightgown - he isn't interested anyway). Then there's Andy's sexy but slightly unhinged girlfriend Gina (Marisa Tomei) who is 'doing' his brother Hank every other Thursday in an ménage-a-trois smug Andy knows nothing about.
But Andy has a foolproof solution to everyone's financial woes with a whopping $600,000 payoff. They do over a small 'mom & pop operation' in a Westchester suburb on a Saturday morning when its quiet and elderly shop-hand Doris opens up at 0800 a.m. No guns, no problems, insurance pays up after they're gone - the only hitch is that it belongs to Charles and Nanette Hanson (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) - their own Father and Mother. Hank is amazed at such a suggestion at first - but soon money is bearing down on him and they commit. But Hank stupidly ropes in a barroom lowlife called Billy (Brian F. O'Byrne) because he doesn't have the guts to do the actual robbery himself (as requested by Andy). Bobby turns up on the day playing thrash metal in their rental car to get psyched up and packing a gun. And instead of Doris - mum Nanette opens Hanson Jewellers. But Mum isn't about to cower in the corner...
The legendary Director of 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Q&A, Network and Dog Day Afternoon - doesn't do 'nice'. Characters in this unfolding melodrama are mean and often unrelenting in their arrogance - and of course there's a price to pay for that when Daddy Charles (who at first seemed like a pushover) becomes obsessed with finding out 'who' so callously took his beloved wife from him.
Brilliantly written by Kelly Masterson - this is not an easy watch - its tone is brutal, nervy, unsettling and dark - and it pointedly refuses to go to redemptive for the ending (all the more realistic for not doing so). But what makes the movie tick is an astonishing troop of actors who could knock down walls with their skills. Principal among these is of course the recently passed Philip Seymour Hoffman whose scenes with a syringe hanging out of his chunky body lying on a bed now have a deeply sad and poignant feel to them. Not to be outdone - Ethan Hawke pours on serious acting chops throughout too - as does Marisa Tomei who bravely spends a lot of the movie conspicuously naked in long and awkward scenes with both Hoffman and Hawke. Michael Shannon and Brian B. O'Byrne only add to their huge portfolio of class work. Adding to all this quality is the powerhouse talent of Albert Finney who has to only sit at a table looking down -and say the words "Let Her Go" (about his wife) and he has you in tears.
Despite his advanced years - Lumet embraced digital technology with a vengeance because (as he explains in the Extras) he could get the 'eye-to-screen' visual quality and style he wanted. I mention this because filmed entirely in HD - the BLU RAY picture quality is fabulous throughout. The razor-sharp scenes filmed on sunny/leafy New York streets offer up a light and colour palette that is beautiful. It's also defaulted to 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio so fills your entire screen. AUDIO is English 51.1 DTS-HD and English 5.1 Dolby Digital while the lone SUBTTLE is English SDH.
The Documentary "How The Devil Was Made" includes interviews with the Director Sidney Lumet, Producers Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse, Actors Hoffman, Hawke, Tomei (and others) and location footage.
"You used to have the world by the balls...now I'm not sure you've got any..." - arrogant Andy says to Hank as he pitches him the heist in a bar.
It may not be everyone's idea of Heaven but give this acidic little monster 10 minutes of your time...before...
PS: the USA disc is REGION A LOCKED so won't play on our machines - avoid that.
This is a thoroughly diabolical tale of just how bad things can go wrong. A simple robbery. Pick up some serious change. Get our finances together and everything will be hunky-dory. But--mom and pop's jewelry store? No problem. Insurance pays for it all. No guns. Nobody gets hurt. Easy money.
Older, more successful (it would appear) brother Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has a few minor problems. Heroin addiction, cocaine habituation. A wife (Marisa Tomei) that...well, he can't seem to perform for. His flat belly days long gone. Younger, sweet, slightly dim-witted younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke) with a few dinero problems of his own. Behind in child support payments for his daughter, in debt to friends and relatives, not exactly wowing them in the work of work, etc.
Sydney Lumet, in this performance at the age of 82 (!), directs and gets it 99.99 percent right, which is hard to do in a thriller. I have seen more thrillers than I can remember and most of the time the director gets the movie printed and lives with the plot holes, the improbabilities, the cheesy scenes, and the hurry-up ending. Here Lumet makes a thriller like it's a work of art. Every detail is perfect. The acting is superb. The plot has no holes. The story rings true and clear and represents a tale about human frailty that would honor the greatest filmmakers and even the Bard himself.
Hoffman of course is excellent. When you don't have marquee, leading man presence, you have to get by on talent, workmanship and pure concentration. Ethan Hawke, who is no stranger to the sweet, little guy role, adds a layer of desperation and all too human incompetence to the part so that we don't know whether to pity him or trash him. Albert Finney plays the father of the wayward sons with a kind of steely intensity that belies his age. And Marisa Tomei, who has magical qualities of sexiness to go along with her unique creativity, manages to be both vulnerable and hard as nails as Andy's two timing wife. (But who could blame her?)
It's almost a movie reviewer's sacrilege to give a commercial thriller five or ten stars, but if you study this film, as all aspiring film makers would be well advised to do, you will notice the kind of excessive (according to most Hollywood producers) attention to detail that makes for real art--the sort of thing that only great artists can do, and indeed cannot help but do. (By the way, I think there were twenty producers on this film--well, maybe a dozen; check the credits.) All I can say in summation is, Way to go Sydney Lumet, author of a slew of excellent films, and to show such fidelity to your craft and your art at such an advanced age--kudos. May we all do half so well.
Okay, the 00.01 percent. It was unlikely that the father (Albert Finney) could have followed the cabs that Andy took around New York without somehow losing the tail. This is minor, and I wish all thrillers could have so small a blip. Also one wonders why Lumet decided not to tell us about the fate of Hank at the end. We can guess and guess. Perhaps his fate fell onto the cutting room floor. Perhaps Lumet was not satisfied with what was filmed and time ran out, and he just said, "Leave it like that. It really doesn't matter."
And I think it doesn't. What happens to Hank is not going to be good. He isn't the kind of guy who manages to run off to Mexico and is able to start a new life. He is the kind of guy who gets a "light" sentence of 10 to 20 and serves it and comes out a kind of shrunken human being who knows he wasn't really a man when he should have been.
See this for Sidney Lumet, one of Hollywood's best, director of The Pawnbroker (1964), The Group (1966), Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), and many more.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Kelly Masterson. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris and Amy Ryan. Music is scored by Carter Burwell and cinematography by Ron Fortunato.
Two brothers with differing financial problems plan to rob their parents' jewellery store. But when all does not go to plan and tragedy strikes, it sends them, and those close to them, into a world of fear, shame and violence.....
It opens with a raunchy sex scene, man and wife in the throes of committed passion, for these brief moments there is pleasure. Once over, though, it proves to be a false dawn, the last time anyone on screen will taste pleasure in Lumet's biting morality tale. From here on in the film unfolds in a dizzying array of multi-perspectives and over lapping of narrative structure, a three pronged assault on the senses as a family implodes in a haze of greed, lies and inadequacies. A botched robbery underpins the plotting, the aftermath of which is what is most cutting, we zip around learning the wherewithal and whys of the key players, learning exactly what we need to know to fully immerse in this bleak world. This is a world populated by love cheats, drug abuse, embezzling, bad parenting and blackmail, a world where the brothers Hanson (Hoffman & Hawke) now dwell, either ill equipped (Hawke's Hank) or stuck between idiocy and smug evil (Hoffman's Andy). Their folly, their greed, impacting with a juddering severity on the family circle.
My life, it doesn't add up. Nothing connects to anything else. I'm not the sum of my parts. All my parts don't add up to one...me.
It would be Lumet's last film (he passed away in 2011), thankfully it is a fitting final offering from the talented Philadelphian. He's aided considerably, mind, by a razor sharp script from debut screenplay writer Masterton. It's full of nastiness and tension, but still observational as a family tragedy, with major bonus' being that it never resorts to stereotypes or copping out come the crushing denouement. Where Lumet excels is in drawing near faultless performances from his cast. Youthful and downtrodden haplessness portrayed by Hawke, Hoffman's powerhouse manipulator with emotional issues, Tomei proving that over 40 is still sexy while dialling into a very touching performance. Finney, a cracker-jack of grief from the wily old fox, Ryan's hard edged ex-wife and Michael Shannon strolling into the picture late in the day exuding notable menace. All splendidly guided by the great director who asks them to portray characters convincing in going deeper for motivations and means.
Bleak, brutal and near brilliant across the board. 9/10
on 27 January 2012
In every department this remarkable film is first-class. The crime-theme is highly original and dramatically gripping. The acting from all participants is unusually convincing and it is extremely well-cast.
The film is superbly directed by Sidney Lumet at the top of his form, events are seen in partial flashback, but this enhances the way the tension unfolds. Every shot is beautifully composed and photographed, and the New York scenes and interiors have complete realism; for example some gruesome scenes in a sleekly expensive dope-den are shocking, but stunning.
The story itself is very dark indeed, but these events feel like a slice of something that might actually have happened: these feel like actual human beings with convincing dramatic reality, even though there is almost nothing here to admire, and there are no heroes to be seen (though Albert Finney's character could be one!)
The way this movie has been put together restores your faith in cinema, and puts to shame all those explosion-extravaganzas, which leave you drained and shredded. A film for grownups, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" leaves you intensely engaged, shocked, but provoked and stimulated. It is possibly Lumet's best film. Highly recommended.
on 19 June 2008
Nobody in the reviews seam to speak much about the photo, but that's what I liked best. The whole film looks like a polaroid, or maybe like a faded lomo shot, it's absolutely superb. The images of this film are going to stay with me for a very long time.
The actors are fantastic, I liked the second roles in particular, the tirade of the old diamond dealer (what a character!) is unforgettable. The plot is a somewhat classic heist plot, but with an underlying nagging pessimism.
The only film I can compare this film with, is Magnolia. But where Magnolia has a clean photo and an ultimately optimistic (or at least forgiving) world view, this one stays well anchored in the faded dark greens and bleak portraits of human nature.
Brothers Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are in desperate need of money and come up with a fool-proof way to get it: They'll rob a small jewelry store. The catch: It's their parents' store.
Wow. I'll say it again: Wow. This movie is the most powerful and exciting film I've seen in a long time. The acting is outstanding, the script is clever and full of surprises, and the direction by Sidney Lumet is superb. Supporting the two stars are Albert Finney as their father and Marissa Tomei as Andy's wife. They are both excellent. The story reminded me a lot of A Simple Plan which also had two greedy brothers with a can't-miss scheme that quickly and tragically becomes a nightmare. This movie is so intense, I was often saying, "Yikes!" to myself and holding my breath a lot. It's that good.
The only thing I didn't like is the way the story constantly goes back and forth in flashbacks; I don't think that added anything and was a bit frustrating for me. But still, if you like emotional crime dramas, you'll love this movie. Explicit sexuality and non-stop profanity.
on 17 August 2008
First I need to point out this film is definitely not a feelgood film, it's very dark, downbeat and, ultimately, very sad. Two brothers with major financial problems decide to carry out a financial scam involving the robbery of their own parent's jewellery store. The idea is the brainchild of the older brother, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and when he first pitches it to his younger brother, Ethan Hawke, he has to do quite a lot of persuading to convince him. In the end they both agree that such a risky and desperate scam is realistically the only way to get them both out of their current dire financial straits. It's a decision that ends up having a profound and tragic effect on them and their family's lives.
The cast and acting in this film is top notch and the performances are very convincing. Philip Seymour Hoffman is excellent playing the high-flier who has lost control of his life and seems to be failing in everything he does. His easily influenced and more wayward brother is also well played by Ethan Hawke, reluctantly following the lead of his older brother. Albert Finney is also superb playing the father who slowly starts to piece together the threads of his son's shocking plan.
When the arranged robbery goes wrong, a domino effect starts where one disaster leads onto another reactionary disaster and soon the brothers lives start to fall apart, dragging down many other people with them. As things spiral more and more out of control the brothers actions get increasingly more extreme as they battle to keep control of the unfolding events around them. More and more people get dragged into this vicious circle until their father realises what has happened and things take a tragic turn for the worst.
As this emotional whirlwind unravels you can't help but feel for sorry for the two brothers as matters go horribly awry in ways they never could have imagined. Whilst you rue their utter stupidity in involving themselves in such a criminal and high risk course of action, you kind of empathise with the desperation that can drive people to forego common sense in pursuit of a 'quick fix' solution to their problems. The film dramatically shows how foolish and compulsive actions can lead to tragedy, and how the instigators of these irrational actions are often just as much the victims as the perpetrators.
I’m writing this review after my second viewing of ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.’ I watched it on DVD when it first came out and, to be honest, it didn’t leave that much of a lasting impression on me. If you asked me to describe it, I’d probably say something like, ‘Oh, it was about a heist... or something.’
To be fair, that is part of the film. I don’t know what I started thinking about it years later, but I decided to give it another go. And I’m glad I did. Yes, it’s about a heist. Although, the main ingredient in this film is about moral dilemmas. Two brothers (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke), both with financial problems, decide to rob their parents’ jewellery store as a way of making a fast buck (while not admitting that they’re heavily in debt – and why).
Naturally, things don’t go their way and both of them find themselves stuck in an ever deceasing spiral as more and more things get out of control. I won’t go into the actual plot in too much detail, as anything I say will probably spoilt the film of you. However, what is nice is that you can see things from their points of view. Both men have problems. Yes, there may be easier (legal?!) ways of getting cash, but both have already gone too far to be able to turn around and utilise legitimate money-making means. Then, when things start to go wrong, everything happens logically. You’ll feel for the two men (even if you don’t always like them). Albert Finney is on the cast list and he does a good job, too. Although his part is decidedly smaller than his two on-screen sons, but what he does he does well.
‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ is a slow film. Maybe when I watched it before I was expecting some sort of ‘action-orientated’ gangster film where people are shooting each other and delivering a witty quip here and there. It’s nothing like that. If you’re looking for that sort of experience, look somewhere else. This film is quieter, subtle and sadder in tone. It’s also nearly two hours long, but, despite being slow, that’s not a bad thing.
If you’re in the mood for ‘thoughtful’ over ‘thrilling’ give this one a go. I’m definitely going to watch it again – probably in a few years, but definitely.
on 9 February 2010
Sidney Lumet crafts his movies to showcase the darker aspects of the American dream, and from 12 Angry Men almost 50 years ago to masterpieces like Verdict,Dog day afternoon,Long day's journey into night,Prince of the city they are all uniquely chilling and provocative parables about social justice and class and gender divides .
This dark brooding classic tale of family intrigue set in the compelling vicissitudes of a frenetic and degenerate modern era; almost runs in the mode of a contemporary familial Greek tragedy, with a great plot which involves themes ranging avidly from matricide to incest and Lumet almost shatters your belief in humanity, until you almost loath everyone with his realistic pessimism .
The movie does'nt take any pity on its mundane characters driven by an impatient frenzy for their obvious fiscal greed ,neither does it importune the audience for any conclusions or sympathy but rather involves you subconciously in the under current sordidness that we implicitly experience in our midst daily but ignore and forget to store in the niches of our overcrowded minds as we rush along with a frantic pace with our possibly pointless lives.
Yet the rampant drug addiction ,carnal sex for pleasure and lust and greed for excess is rendered pointless ,as in this dark drama when it encounters a genuine human emotion called love which has become almost redundant today but this cinematic gem exploits it in the form of Mr.Albert Finney's brilliantly portraying, wronged husband-father who must seek and administer justice to redeem his own soul and inner peace , and so he does and he deserves all the accolades i can muster for his brilliant portrayal ,mr. Finney has come a long way since playing 'Tom Jones' in 60's but the latent anger and the rebellious humour still sears and is matched by the strengths of Mr.Phillip Hoffman seymour's equally deranged character encumbered with a smouldering frustration and evil helplessness.
While Ethan Hawke captures the desperation and cowardice of his character vividly ,add to this the lonely woman seeking for love played by Marisa Tomei as a sexy seductress, who is desperate for love but afraid to explore or find it and you have a pitch perfect cast ready to indulge in a searing human drama where nothing is sacred and every offence is made feasible and convincing by the evolution of circumstances and the sensitivity with which mr.Lumet has handled it is masterful and pure genius .
Once again Lumet uses the streets of New York to prove he is the 'Prince of the city' and others cannot even touch his 'individualistic style' which is both cerebral yet so satisfying ,bravo to this genius who deserves more then just critical acclaim as he is indeed one of the best American talents and this gem is ample evidence .
on 2 March 2014
I am not a fan of the new layout of lovefilm. It's making me write a review to add a rating. It also keeps trying to push me to the streaming service, in which I am not interested. Should they get rid of the disc rental service, I will no longer pay my subscription.