If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Philip Seymour Hoffman is the most dangerous man in Hollywood. It's hard to put other actors next to him, even really good ones. Such a monumental talent is he, that he makes almost everybody else look bad. Fortunately, a weathered director like Sidney Lumet can still manage to make everybody play nice. This is not to say other people look bad in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Not at all. With Albert Finney playing Hoffman and Ethan Hawke's grim and grieving father, it would be no walk in the park to steal the show, but Hoffman certainly doesn't make it easy on anyone either.
The film doesn't waste any time getting to the meat of the matter: right off the bat...a failed jewelry heist. Ethan Hawke sits in a car wearing what looks like a bad Elliot Gould disguise and waits as his gunman shoots and gets shot by the old woman running the strip mall jewelry store they are attempting to rob. As his partner crashes through the front door, dead, Ethan freaks the frak out and drives off. This is the crux event of the movie. We are pulled back repeatedly through time to see the various character's stories play out first before the crime, and then gradually afterwards.
Also complicating things is Hoffman's bored wife Marisa Tomei who is also sleeping with Hawke. She isn't given much to do other than to be a backdrop story element that you know will eventually come to an ugly head, but let me tell you this much: Marisa is THE HOTTEST 43 year old working today. She made my tongue pop out like a Tex Avery character on Viagra and I found myself having a hard time keeping my eyes off her. Doesn't help that she walks around topless through a good portion of the movie either. She is such a powerful draw here, that I was honestly surprised that she didn't figure more intimately into the story.
I suppose there's not actually anything we haven't really seen before here. Lumet even uses a Run Lola Run visual effect between time shifts, but it's all done competently, just not terribly inventively. The story is far from original and it all really comes down to a guy with big daddy issues. Suffice it to say, this isn't gonna be for everybody, and many may find it downright tedious. For me, I had no problem keeping interested. Watching these guys try to hold it together as the S#%t just starts hailing buckets on them is watching master craftsmen at work and just that alone kept me fascinated. It's no wonder that this has gotten so much notice for the performances this year.Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is more of a character portrait of two seriously messed up brothers who make one big mistake than it is a crime film, but the tension gets high enough that it hardly made a difference. Still, it would have been nice to see this turn some odder corners than it did. Chalk this one up as a Matinee film for Cyrus.