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BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Brian F. OíByrne, Rosemary Harris
Director: Sidney Lumet
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Image
Features: See Review
Length: 117 Minutes
Release Date: April 15, 2008

ďItís too late to think. Itís too late. THIS is our future.Ē

Film ****

Age is just a number, and that rule couldnít be applied better to some of our most treasured filmmakers. And thereís no better director to support that fact better than 83-year-old Sidney Lumet. Hereís a director who has countless great films on his resume (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Prince of the City), and yet Iím more than convinced that Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead might just be Lumetís signature masterpiece.

Lumet is a filmmaker who knows a great deal about the moralities involved with crime or some form of corruption. The best possible way to sum up the film is a morality play with a tragedy level of Shakespearean proportions. Of all the films Iíve seen that left me feeling like I was hit with a ton of bricks, this has got to top the list.

And if you havenít seen the film yet, then I advise you to stop reading this review and watch it immediately. The less you know about the story, the more absorbed you will be by the filmís every frame. The reason I mention this is because I donít want to ruin the experience for you, and yet there is so much I have to praise about this masterful work that I will have to go into various details.

The film centers in on a desperate scheme carried out by two brothers who are both in serious financial woes. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a corporate payroll executive who is in need of some fast money. We see that he carries a drug habit and that he is up to no good at work, so we can only assume his reasons for needing cash is to satisfy his habit and cover his tracks at the office.

His brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is also in desperate need of money, only because he is several months behind on alimony payments. So Andy, aware of his brotherís predicament, presents to Hank a proposition that could solve both their problems. It involves knocking over a suburban jewelry store, and if done successfully could result in a quick $120,000 split two ways.

But it turns out the act of robbery isnít the real catch of the plan. The store being targeted for the robbery happens to be owned by none other than Andy and Hankís parents. Itís a job that Andy, in his demented wisdom, has labeled the mom and pop operation.

Although Iíve just detailed the plot setup, Lumet, along with first time screenwriter Kelly Masterson and editor Tom Swartwout, let the film unravel in a most unique fractured way. The movie actually begins with the robbery going down. It goes wrong in the worst possible way, and as we are plunged into the aftermath the film jumps back several days before the robbery, where in which countless details are revealed through a characterís point of view.

Now we all know this fractured style of narrative is nothing extraordinarily new. Ever since Pulp Fiction, countless films have used the technique, some innovative while others appearing to simply capitalize on Quentin Tarantinoís revolutionary storytelling. Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead is unquestionably one of the most innovative films to date to apply the filmmaking method, ranking it alongside the likes of Memento, which is really saying a lot.

The multiple points of view story segments consist of revealing one characterís vantage point several days prior to the crime. Once the story reaches up to the robbery, we flashback to another crucial characterís perspective. And itís through these narrative jumps and the meticulous story reconstruction that we come to realize how this crime went wrong in the most unimaginable way.

By this point, you will have felt slapped in the face numerous times, but nothing can prepare for the truly shattering final moments of the film. The impact that this film delivers is uncompromising, to say the least. Iíve seen many films about crimes that go horribly wrong, but this is a real original in the way it presents the actual crime as a catalyst for what has got to be the worst possible downward spiral for those involved.

The acting is also a magnificent element in the filmís success. Philip Seymour Hoffman is an actor whoís given so many great performances, that it has become extremely difficult to pick one performance as his finest yet. I honestly think this is Hoffmanís most astonishing piece of acting to date, which is saying something considering the actorís amazing work in Capote and Charlie Wilsonís War.

And what a revelation Ethan Hawke is. Heís long been an extremely talented actor, as proven in films such as Gattaca, Lord of War and Training Day. Here, he reaches an emotional intensity that is very revealing. It represents Hawkeís strongest acting yet.

Thereís also remarkable work provided from the great Albert Finney as the father unaware that his sons have caused his life to crumble. Then you have Marisa Tomei delivering her strongest work in quite some time as Andyís wife, who is also having an affair with Hank. And Ms. Tomei, at age 43, looks hotter than ever and isnít afraid to show more than a little skin.

Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead is a film that is every bit as poetic as its title. Here is a film with so many qualities to praise, and each at superbly high levels. At the center of that praise is Sidney Lumet. Itís rare when a great filmmaker wins the Lifetime Achievement Award, and then manages to make a career-crowning masterpiece.

Video ****

I was surprised that Image was handling the release for this disc, but Iím glad they did because the result is a most fantastic looking presentation. The anamorphic picture is incredibly solid from beginning to end. Nothing but crisp and fully clear picture quality, and all of the colors and textures look most outstanding. No flaws detected at any point in the presentation. A fantastic presentation all the way!

Audio ***1/2

Though the film is dialogue driven, the 5.1 mix supplied does a most magnificent job. The occasional outbursts of violence provide a remarkable jolt that will definitely get a reaction out of you. The tension filled score by Carter Burwell sounds incredibly strong, and dialogue delivery is potent and tremendous.

Features ***

The amount of extras may not seem like a lot, but I give this release from Image bonus points for adding a lot to the basics. Included is a superb commentary with director Sidney Lumet and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, which is a detailed and fascinating listen. Also featured is a most informative documentary titled ďDirected by Sidney Lumet: How the Devil Was MadeĒ. Lastly, there is a Theatrical Trailers and several bonus previews, which precede the menus.

Summary:

In addition to having one of the best movie titles ever, Before the Devil Knows Youíre Dead is an intense, shattering, deeply absorbing movie experience. It represents filmmaking of the highest possible order. Itís one of the truly best films of 2007, and represents Sidney Lumetís finest hour in filmmaking.

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