Sunday, February 03, 2008

FILM REVIEW - Before the devil knows your dead

Why this movie didn't get a wider distribution I really don't know. David and I have been looking out for it for weeks. Finally, it's turned up in Cambridge, but it has been worth the wait. It's a real corker, but hard going emotionally, as it's unremitting and doom ridden storyline unfolds. The essential premise is the classic heist that goes seriously wrong, the repercussions for all involved, are tragic. 'Before the devil knows your dead' deftly plays out it's unfolding storyline, revealing its hand gradually through a series of flash backs from differing perspectives, which expand your understanding of what has really gone on. Slowly you realise what a mess the relationship between these people was in before the robbery, and what drove them to the lunacy of it in the first place. Under the skilled hands of octogenarian director Sidney Lumet, you are drawn into a hard hearted, grubby and unforgiving world, as they try to conceal their duplicitous involvement in the heist.

Two brothers, Andy ( Philip Seymour Hoffman ) and Hank ( Ethan Hawke ) plan to rob their parents jewellery store. It seems an easy thing to do, no one will get hurt. If all goes well, both of them will sort out the financial mess they've got themselves into. Whilst Andy initiates the idea, he's coldly manipulates his no hoper brother into actually doing the job. Hank can't face doing it alone, so he employs an experienced hit man. What starts out as a clean robbery without consequence, fails, but turns into the murder of their Mother instead. The veneer of civility within the family, eventually fractures, as buried hateful resentments come to the surface. Even the brother's Father, Charles ( Albert Finney ), appears to have a dirty and unscrupulous past. In his grief and anger, he wants to find and take out whoever planned the heist. It's only matter of time before he'll find out, and everything unravels without a trace of mercy.

The acting plaudits go to all three lead actors, who lift this superlative film script to even greater heights. The plot twists give the film sufficient momentum, but do so without the split second editing or a heavy handed soundtrack, a weaker or more poorly realised movie might employ. It remains always a very human film at heart. It's a sign of its quality script and acting that you never lose sympathy with the characters. You stay with them, even as the consequences drive them to increasingly unpalatable and extreme actions. 'Before the devil knows your dead' might hide its distinguished calibre, but it remains an unassuming, but classic movie, which is currently being shamefully ignored.

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