Sunday, November 04, 2007

Roger's Hollywood Minute

A new film, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, is getting uniformily rave reviews. Here's a representative critique from Roger Ebert (and one that doesn't give up too much of the plot, unlike the NYT review):

Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is such a superb crime melodrama that I almost want to leave it at that. To just stop writing right now and advise you to go out and see it as soon as you can. I so much want to avoid revealing plot points that I don't even want to risk my usual strategy of oblique hints. You deserve to walk into this one cold.

Yet that would prevent my praise, and there is so much to praise about this film. Let me try to word this carefully. The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers -- yes, brothers, because although they may not look related, they always feel as if they share a long and fraught history. Hoffman plays Andy, a payroll executive who dresses well and always has every hair slicked into place, but has a bad drug habit and an urgent need to raise some cash. Hawke plays Hank, much lower on the financial totem pole, with his own reasons for needing money; he can't face his little girl and admit he can't afford to pay for her class outing to attend "The Lion King." Hank looks more like the druggie, but you never can tell.

Andy suggests they solve their problems by robbing a jewelry store....


And it doesn't simply go wrong, it goes wrong with an aftermath we care about. This isn't a movie where the crime is only a plot, and dead bodies are only plot devices. Its story has deeply emotional consequences. That's why an actor with Albert Finney's depth is needed for an apparently supporting role. If he isn't there when he's needed, the whole film loses. As for Hoffman and Hawke, so seemingly different but such intelligent actors, they pull off that miracle that makes us stop thinking of anything we know about them, and start thinking only of Andy and Hank.

This is a movie, I promise you, that grabs you and won't let you think of anything else. It's wonderful when a director like Lumet wins a Lifetime Achievement Oscar at 80, and three years later makes one of his greatest achievements.

A film that's not based on a toy, or a cartoon, or a cartoon about a toy. One that doesn't star Angelina Jolie as Grendel's mother or Vince Vaughn as Santa's brother. One that has scenes from a mall but not a crappy screenplay.

And here's the best part: One of the producers is Brian Linse, proprietor of the Ain't No Bad Dude blog. Here's hoping that the movie is a success beyond Brian's wildest expectations, and that he lets me hold his Oscar (TM -AMPAS).

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