Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

September 4th, 2008 DVD Reviews, Film, Xpress

You might have heard of this film as the latest by legendary director Sidney Lumet, the Hollywood royalty behind great paranoid thrillers of the 60s and 70s like Fail-safe and Serpico and still working into his mid 80s.

What you might not have heard about it is how much like the work of Tarantino it is, particularly Pulp Fiction. The straightforward plot is of two down on their luck brothers, the professional but heroin-addicted Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the skittish Hank (Ethan Hawke) who decide to pull off the perfect scam — the robbery of their parents’ jewellery store. All covered by insurance, nobody will come off worse, and the two will be far richer.

But it all goes wrong when the dubious Hank recruits a loser bartender friend to pull off the job whose concentration slips and results in both he and their mother fatally shot.

The rest of the film deals with a classic, noirish set-up of an increasingly desperate web of lies and scams to try to stay out of trouble that will inevitably destroy both brothers, Andy’s wife (Marisa Tomei, seldom looking so scorching hot) and their father (Albert Finney).

Where it’s like a Tarantino film is the way Lumet cuts it up, following the characters and the ramifications of what they do mostly out of sequential order, the advancing of the film hanging on the slightest turn before you know how important it is.

Everyone involved is at their best, with Seymour Hoffman the standout, making thespian mincemeat out of the dour, angry and seemingly in control Andy.


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