Thursday, April 17, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (Sidney Lumet, 2007)


An offensively grandstanding, fatalistic mediocrity where two morbidly maladjusted brothers - who, between them, have acted on every self-destructive impulse known to Paul Haggis - decide to rob their Mom and Dad's jewellery store. The plot jumps back and forth in time, but don't panic, intertitles and a drum roll announce every flashback for your convenience. This snazzy stylistic tic - one of many embraced by the once-brilliant Sidney Lumet - fits beautifully within the film's overarching principle of exposition-hysteria-then-more-exposition.

Self-loathing-heroin-abusing-Father-hating-yuppie-embezzling older brother Philip Seymour Hoffman opines in one of several strained monologues: "I don't add up." So, do take note, when he says and does things without a coherent motive, it's not because he's six stereotypes crudely stitched together. It's because he's so mind-bendingly real, man,

Ethan Hawke spends the film jittering uncontrollably - lest you shift your attention to a cast mate - as the younger brother, who would make an infinitely more convincing junkie, though you never see him injecting anything conspicuous.

Albert Finney plays a father guilty of never expressing emotion, with the gusto of an Oscar-hungry father more likely to have traumatised his children into inertia through expressing his emotion too much. (In his defence, it's easy to see how his scenery-chewing genes could lead to a chronically jittery Ethan Hawke). Marisa Tomei spends half her screen-time topless, playing a plot device to ratchet up the melodrama. The supporting cast also includes ghetto stereotypes, the ever dependable Rosemary Harris (who gives the film's single grounded performance in its single grounded scene), a shrill ex-wife who repeats roughly three lines of dialogue incessantly and at the same pitch, as well as a little girl to remind Hawke and the audience by phone: "But Dad! You promised to pay for my excursion to see The Lion King!"

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At 8:05 AM , Blogger Paul Martin said...

People have been raving about this film, but I completely agree with you. Thoroughly disappointing, melodramatic and unconvincing.

At 10:24 PM , Blogger Y Kant Goran Rite said...

I'm baffled by the acclaim. Maybe people have been too starved of adult-oriented tragic thrillers. If so, I hope the same demographic checks out Gone Baby Gone in the next couple weeks. While it also has issues with plausibility, it's infinitely richer, tenser, more thoughtful and thought-provoking.


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