Thursday, September 20, 2007



Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Photo from ThinkFilm

Evil. Pervasive evil. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (showing at the New York Film Festival, NYFF) is a brilliant film about a very insidious kind of evil, the evil that comes from a little greed, a little stupidity, a little need for love, a little carelessness, all adding up to mounting catastrophe.

Arriving on
Sidney Lumet's reading pile from a little known playwright and first time screen writer, Kelly Masterson, Lumet (who's now a very lively 83 and has another film already in post-production) made a few key changes, notably adding the stunning opening with graphic sex, to create a masterful film. This may be the best crime-caper film I've ever seen. (Caper here, though, is not meant to suggest something funny. There is nothing funny about this film.)

Beginning with the first startling moment, the film piles on layer after layer of complexity and character study, revisiting moments in the past and revealing truths from the viewpoint of different characters, until its unflinching conclusion, completing the story in a way that is both surprising and pre-determined.

The title (from the original screenplay), comes from an Irish toast: "May you be in Heaven half an hour, before the the devil knows you're dead."

Marisa Tomei
Photo from ThinkFilm

The three main characters, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers (they don't look like brothers which is distracting, yet gives the story an extra edge), and Marisa Tomei, in a sexually charged performance, are all terrific. As is the case in all great movies, every supporting player, especially Albert Finney, has depth and character.

The film, as is normal for Lumet, takes place in New York. The cinematography by
Ron Fortunato provides striking visual art. Some images, for example the dumping of a vase full of stones, are lingering in my head, like tunes that keep replaying themselves.

This is a hard film to take for anyone who likes only pure romance, but for anyone with a passion for drama and great filmmaking, this film is superb, one of the very best films of the year: a classic!

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