Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead
- Kaleem Aftab
- 4 January 2008
After years of producing dross such as the Vin Diesel vehicle Find Me Guilty and 1993 abomination Guilty as Sin, legendary New York based filmmaker Sidney Lumet returns to the sort of form he showed in his heyday. It helps that we’re on Lumet’s favourite territory — the heist gone wrong. From The Anderson Tapes (1971) to Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Lumet always excelled when showing the intricacies and fall-out from a robbery.
In Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, he also makes use of the structural experimentation and multiple view scene structure that viewers will associate with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown and, more pertinently to this tale, Kubrick’s 1956 The Killing.
The opening scene leaves an impression like a Lucien Freud painting. Philip Seymour Hoffman is pictured like we’ve never seen him before — naked having sex with his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) while leering at a mirror. The post-sex conversation suggests a marriage in the doldrums and when they namedrop Stanley Donen’s Blame it on Rio, it’s apparent to anyone who has seen this 1984 Michael Caine romp that a secret affair will be someone’s undoing.
Lumet plunges into his own archives for characters and plot; this is a family affair to rival his 1962 version of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night while Hoffman is Lumet’s best drug addict since Katharine Hepburn’s Mary Tyrone. Before the Devil . . . is another one of Lumet’s portraits in machismo as exemplified by 12 Angry Men (1957), Serpico (1973) and The Hill (1965), all of which contain examples of deeply flawed and contradictory men.
Hoffman is formidable while Albert Finney as his upstanding and unsympathetic father is on the form that saw him nominated for an Oscar when he previously acted for Lumet in Murder on the Orient Express. Ethan Hawke also excels as Hoffman’s impressionable brother who agrees to do the heist and despite his best endeavours always lands in the mire. The one drawback in this excellent film is Tomei, a one-dimensional moll turn, which seems paper thin amongst all this texture and complexity.
General release from Fri 11 Jan.