Monday, June 6, 2011

Before the devil knows you're dead

Sidney Lumet, 2007, 115m

This is a drama of a crime veering tragicomically off the planned trajectory. It is a film chiselled to perfection which holds you by the seat from end to end. The pieces of the story go back and forth in time and are assembled with wicked ingenuity to grip the viewer with suspense and uncertainty about what is going to come next. The pace never lets up and the film gathers momentum till it explodes to a befitting finale. A gem of film craft and story telling which is worth watching for it's sheer wizardry of execution. The high point is the subdued but mesmeric acting performance of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He completely embodies the seemingly confident yet inwardly crumbling character of Andy Hanson.

It is a film about the depths of desperation which money can drive people to, the terrifying spirals of evil in which they can be caught. It begins with a mother's slaughter and concludes with a gut wrenching act of revenge. The title of this sombre masterpiece derives from a saying, "Spend a half hour in heaven before the devil knows you're dead." Lumet died in his late eighties soon after this film. It is a chilling vision of human fallibility seen from the pinnacle of age, experience and impending death. It almost seems as though the great director had taken a spot on the pulpit and was teaching the rationale of the Christian faith through this tragic modern parable with it's macabre grandeur..


Jack L said...

Glad you liked this one. It was a pretty brutal watch, but such an incredible film!
I was particularly impressed by Ethan Hawke, of course Hoffman was terrific but I had expected that, however Hawke had never struck me as a great actor before seeing this.

S. M. Rana said...

Incredible is right! I've seen a few Lumet films but he hasn't delivered this kind of vicious perfection to my knowledge. Hawke and Finney are shadowed by Hoffman but each performance is convincing and fleshed out.

Ramya said...

thanks for stopping by :)

S. M. Rana said...

Your poems
as buds
to a tree.

Nathanael Hood said...

While this isn't my favorite film by Lumet, it is impossible to deny its incredible power. It's a shame that Lumet died after making it. The man had plenty more movies left in him.

SM Rana said...


What ARE your favorite Lumets, in descending order?

Nathanael Hood said...

I've only seen six of his films.

But I'll rank the ones I have seen:

12 Angry Men
Dog Day Afternoon
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The Fugitive Kind

I've been meaning to see more of his films for AGES.

S. M. Rana said...

I've seen nos 1, 2, 5 above plus find me guilty. I remember thoroughly 12 Angry Men, being a fan of courtroom. I would rate the present one very highly for it's sheer brilliance of execution and study of character. Of course, credit goes much to Hoffman for his nuanced and sensitive role.

Nathanael Hood said...

Hoffman is simply a genius. Everything he touches turns to gold.

S. M. Rana said...

True! I'm learning Hoffman and looking to do 25th Hour and Synecdoche, both second round, but so remote in past as to be like new.

Anonymous said...

Hoffman was very good and so did other actors. By the way, check out "The Savages" and "Charlie Wilson's War". Hoffman had a great year with these two movies and Lumet's final movie in 2007(He was Oscar-nominated for "Charlie Wilson's War").

I love "Network" a lot - and there are many wonderful movies directed by Lumet. It's sad that Lumet is no longer with us, but "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is a great ending to his illustrious career.

S. M. Rana said...

Thanks for the references to Lumet films--there is so much choice it's often bewildering! I agree--all were good in Devil Knows and it is a worthy note on which to end his film making.