Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead movie poster

 

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a powerful, electric return to form for the 83 year-old Sidney Lumet, director of such canonical classics as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, Network, and, uh, The Wiz?

Kelly Masterson’s screenplay tells the high-tension tale of a pair of wholly doomed brothers as a non-linear narrative from multiple points of view. Each jump in time and p.o.v. is accompanied by a thrilling editing technique I haven’t seen anywhere else but Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider: the current and subsequent scene ricochet back and forth in increasing speed until we’re hurtled through time into another fragment of the narrative.

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You're DeadSidney Lumet’s masterclass in blocking, Fig. A

The movie is full of examples of a fine director knowing how to use the form to the story’s advantage. For one example of how the composition of a shot reflects the subtext of the scene, note how that whenever Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawk) plot their scheme in the bar, Andy physically looms over Hank and dominates the frame with his bulk.

Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei in Before the Devil Knows You're DeadStarring Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei’s boobs

The acting is great all around, including a devastating turn from Albert Finney as a bitterly disappointed father, and Marisa Tomei as a woman who cast her lot with two of the worst prospects on the planet. And in case you think Hawke and Hoffman are miscast as siblings, well… just watch.


Watch the trailer.

Buy the DVD from Amazon and kick back a few pennies to The Dork Report.

Lord of War

Lord of War movie poster

 

I initially dismissed Lord of War when the trailers and posters first appeared. In other words, it got caught in the crude mental filters that routinely handle my first-pass “ignore” of all the crap that flows through my eyes and ears all day every day. But when my regular email newsletter from Amnesty International endorsed the film, it seemed possible this was something more substantial than National Treasure.

And it is. In an impressive marketing slight-of-hand, Lions Gate marketed it as an action comedy. But like Syriana, Lord of War is actually a very strongly-felt topical film loosely based on actual events. It has a more human and darkly comedic tone than Syriana, which often felt like a very consciously-constructed intellectual puzzle. But on the other hand, Syriana’s strict focus is perhaps a virtue; Lord of War’s several dramatic plotlines involving the main character’s marriage and wayward brother don’t always sit very well against the larger themes of entrenched human violence.

For another Nicolas Cage treasure hidden in plain sight, I recommend Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men.