Saturday, February 02, 2008

Hell Is Other People

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Cineworld, Broad Street, Birmingham, Saturday February 2, 2008, 1.10pm.

Sidney Lumet may now be an octegenarian, but the opening scene in his latest film Before The Devil Knows You're Dead featuring the doughy gluteus maximus of Philip Seymour Hoffman as he gives a rear-end pounding to a very naked Marisa Tomei, reveals the veteran director has no intention of his work growing old gracefully.

Hoffman plays a real estate accountant in need of a cash injection in the light of an upcoming IRS audit, his various drug addictions and an escape plan to head off to Rio with his stunning wife (the aforementioned Tomei). He enlists his younger brother (Ethan Hawke), who is better looking but similarly cash-strapped, to rob a 'Mom and Pop' jewellery store and clear their debts. The Mom and Pop store he has in mind is their own parents' (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) but the family betrayal doesn't end there as his younger brother is also banging his wife behind his back. The 'victimless crime' with 'no guns' predictably gets bungled and Mom gets fatally wounded in the melee. Pop sets out to find out whodunnit, uncovering some messy family business in the process.

Lumet returns to the heist-gone-wrong genre he pretty much nailed down in 'Dog Day Afternoon' back in the day, but whereas the film's seedy lowlife feel definitely gives off a 70s vibe, the time-sequence shifts, multiple points-of-view and brisk, racy pacing manage to maintain a contemporary edge. Hoffman is superb as the troubled eldest son more in need of counselling than heroin, particularly in a scene where he explodes in frustration driving home after his mother's funeral. Ethan Hawke really disappears into his character as the shifty younger brother, all nervous tics and rat's teeth, light years from his earlier, cockier roles, while Albert Finney is mostly subdued until the veritably eye-popping climax. Marisa Tomei is also on good form and in great shape, but the script poorly serves her character who in effect is used as little more than a sperm repository for the two bungling brothers.

The film is less misogynistic, than it is misanthropic, with 'life is evil' and 'there's no telling what people will do for money' being two messages the Albert Finney character learns all too late in proceedings. The underwritten female roles aside, however, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead makes for great Saturday Night entertainment with potent ingredients of violence, sex, drugs and plot twists masterfully concocted by Lumet into a tense, thoughtful thriller of note.



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