Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon
No one was supposed to get hurt.
Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet (The Verdict, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico) scores big with this absorbing suspense thriller. Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy, an overextended payroll executive who lures his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target. The problem is, the store owners are Andy and Hank's real mom and pop, and when the seemingly perfect crime goes awry, the damage sends them hurtling toward a shattering climax.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Runtime: 117 min.
Release Date: 4/15/2008
• Audio Commentary with Director Sidney Lumet and Actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke
• ďThe Making of Before the Devil Knows Youíre DeadĒ Featurette
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Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 24, 2008)
Most 83-year-old guys spend their days griping about teenagers and gumming pureed meats. (Come to think of it, thatís how I spend my days at the age of 40.) Not Sidney Lumet, however. After a career packed with classic flicks, youíd forgive him if he chose to lay back and relax for his remaining days.
Nope. The octogenarian remains an active filmmaker with no end in sight. For his newest effort, we head to 2007ís Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead. A masked intruder robs the small jewelry store owned by Charles (Albert Finney) and Nanette Hanson (Rosemary Harris). Caught in the shop alone, Nanette fights back and shoots the burglar. He puts a bullet in her as well, but she gets the last shot and kills the robber.
From there the flick zooms back three days prior and we meet getaway driver Hank (Ethan Hawke). The divorced father of pre-teen Danielle (Sarah Livingston), he bickers with ex-wife Martha (Amy Ryan) over his perpetual state of financial disarray. His older brother Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) comes to him with a proposition: a robbery that seems to be easy and victimless. Hank initially demurs, but his need for money overcomes his desire to avoid trouble with the law.
The kicker? Their parents own the store they target. Hank brings in an acquaintance named Bobby (Brian F. OíByrne) as the actual robber while he waits in the car.
And that brings us back to the events we saw earlier in the flick. After the bloody shoot-out at the store, Hank flees. The rest of the tale follows the aftermath of this event and how it impacts the lives of all involved. We also see more flashbacks to show what brought the various characters to the present state.
Devil doesnít find Lumet at the top of his game, as it clearly doesnít compare to classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Network or 12 Angry Men. However, Lumet manages to make Devil a fairly interesting affair, and it certainly tops his lesser efforts like The Morning After.
Actually, Devil reminds me a bit of Morning After due to the way the two flicks balance thriller elements and melodrama. The main difference comes from the manner in which the movies deal with these elements. In Morning, Lumet focused so heavily on character interactions and that side of things that the plot became an afterthought. Since we didnít care at all about the participants, the flick became a bore.
In Devil, Lumet clearly favors the character side of matters as well, but the result works better because we actually muster some interest in the roles. No, I canít say that they qualify as great characters, and the movie doesnít paint them in a particularly dynamic manner. They tend to remain sketchily portrayed and without great depth. However, they receive enough depth to involve us, and they act as a good basis for the story.
Unlike in Morning, Lumet pays enough attention to the plot to keep us interested. Like I mentioned, the character situations are the real motivating factor here; Lumet puts most of his eggs in that basket, especially in the way he sometimes shows the same event from different perspectives. However, the story receives good delineation and ensures our attention. Though itís not much more than a heist-gone-wrong with a twist, thatís enough to support the film.
I will admit that I think Lumet falters when he veers toward the character side of things. Thereís more soap opera/melodrama than Iíd like, and Lumet just doesnít have a great affinity for the touchy-feely side of things. Heís much more interesting when he deals with capers and intriguing situations than when he touches on emotions.
Devil clearly benefits from an excellent cast. Hoffman proves especially memorable as Andy, the best-developed role in the flick. Actually, on the page, Hank probably gets greater exposition, but Hoffman makes Andy feel more complete. He takes the part and runs with it to create a character with a lot of facets. Hoffman transitions well from Andyís moments of cockiness to his insecurities and other emotions; he creates a rich performance here.
While I wonít knock Hawkeís work as Hank, he clearly isnít in the same league as Hoffman. Iím not sure I buy them as brothers, and Hawke plays up mannerisms too much of the time. When I think of Hank, I think of verbal tendencies and some superficial performance tendencies, whereas when I think of Andy, I consider actual personality traits and emotions. Hawke is acceptable but seems outclassed by the excellent Hoffman.
Tomei has quietly developed a good career in this kind of semi-indie flick, and she does just fine as Andyís wife/Hankís mistress. She shows up nude a lot in the film, and as good as she looks, I must admit those shots become a distraction. They often donít seem necessary, and they occasionally feel like Tomeiís attempts to prove that sheís still hot at 42. She is, but the movie doesnít need to constantly remind us of that. Man, I never thought Iíd grouse about too many images of a good-looking naked woman, but I just think that the nudity undercuts the storyís effectiveness at times.
At no point does Devil become a particularly insightful character piece, an especially emotional melodrama, or a really thrilling crime flick. Nonetheless, it manages to score enough points along the way to maintain our interest. Though I canít call this a great Ė or even very good Ė movie, I like it, mostly due to some good acting.
The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+
Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Shot digitally, the transfer suffered from some of that formatís limitations, but it still looked pretty good.
Sharpness seemed solid most of the time. I noticed a little edge enhancement, and those haloes made a few shots appear a bit tentative. Otherwise the image presented a crisp and distinctive image. No issues with moirť effects or jagged edges popped up, and source defects remained absent throughout the flick.
The palette of Devil stayed with a pretty subdued look. The colors were reasonably natural and they fit the tone of the film. Blacks looked dark and tight, and shadows were usually fine, though some interiors could seem a bit murky. The transfer didnít excel, but it was more than acceptable.
Similar thoughts greeted the unassuming Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Devil. Not much came from its low-key soundfield. Music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and general environmental material cropped up through the flick. Nothing more involving than that occurred, though, as ambience ruled the day. The surrounds gently bolstered the track, but the forward speakers dominated this laid-back mix.
Audio quality seemed good. Speech was always concise and crisp, and the lines lacked edginess or other concerns. Not a lot of score appeared here, but when we heard music, those elements appeared vivid and full. The effects were also positive. A few gunshots represented the only loud noises, and they packed a good punch. Otherwise this was a restrained affair without anything to stand out from the crowd. All of that left it as a ďB-ď soundtrack.
When we shift to the extras, we begin with an audio commentary from director Sidney Lumet and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific chat. They discuss cast, characters and performances, shooting digitally and cinematography, sets and locations, editing, and a few other production elements.
The commentary occasionally becomes pretty interesting, but it also sags on a lot of occasions. Most of the slow parts come from the mutual admiration society on display; we find lots of praise for all involved and the film itself.
The track also goes off-topic quite a bit, but I donít mind those parts too much; Lumet chats about his career and offers some good stories, even if theyíre unconnected to Devil. I like the chat between Lumet and Hawke about their experiences as child actors, and a few good insights come with this discussion. Overall, however, it seems too inconsistent and doesnít live up to expectations.
Directed By Sidney Lumet: How the Devil Was Made goes for 24 minutes, 27 seconds and includes remarks from Lumet, Hawke, Hoffman, producers Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse, and actor Marisa Tomei. We find out how Lumet came onto the project, his take on the material, changes to the script, the cast, rehearsals and the directorís work on the set. The program veers toward too much praise at times, but it also communicates some interesting production notes. Indeed, it probably becomes a more efficient glimpse of the movie-making process than the erratic commentary.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for The Air I Breathe, The Walker, Nanking and War Dance. The disc also includes the theatrical trailer for Devil.
Well into his eighties, Sidney Lumet remains a compelling director. Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead sputters at times but remains interesting and provocative. The DVD provides decent to good picture and audio along with a few extras. This is neither a great film nor an exceptional release, but I think itís worth a rental.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1176 Stars
| Number of Votes: 17