Tuesday, 11 July 2017

"Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" on BLU RAY – A Review by Mark Barry of the 2007 Sidney Lumet Film...


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"…Everything's Wonderful…"

When LED ZEPPELIN released "In Through The Out Door" in 1979 (their last studio album) - the famous design company HIPGNOSIS provided them with six different album covers hidden behind outer brown paper bags (the sleeves were identified as A, B, C, D, E and F on the spines). The wordless cover shot is a photo of a man sat on a barstool lighting a piece of paper with a match while five other people watch him do it - a barman, drinkers, a hooker in the corner over by the jukebox etc. So each of the six sleeves is the man lighting the piece of paper - but from their viewpoint - front (barman), sideways (drinker), behind (hooker)...

I mention all of this because Sidney Lumet's 2007 "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" is the cinematic equivalent. The bulk of the film is a jewellery heist that goes disastrously wrong - but told from different angels and at different times. We get the day of the robbery, three days before the robbery, hours after the robbery. And each time we revisit a scene - we see the same stuff and people - but with more information presented to us that shows how and why the whole thing came apart - and more importantly - the truly horrible consequences that follow on from lies and greed.

30-something New Yorker's Andrew and Hank Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) have major financial problems. Hank (Andy's younger brother) has a daughter with his embittered and estranged wife Martha (Amy Ryan) who keeps demanding alimony payments and trips to The Lion King that he simply can't afford. Andy is adrift - his job - his love life - his kid - and his general lack of spunk towards people and decisions are quickly making him look like and feel like a loser. His older and considerably cockier brother Andy works for a real estate company and gives the illusion of wealth and control. But he's fiddling client accounts and regularly raiding the cash box to feed his recreational habit with a local dealer who puts heroin in his arm in a plush apartment and asks no questions (permanently dressed in a silk nightgown - he isn't interested anyway). Then there's Andy's sexy but slightly unhinged girlfriend Gina (Marisa Tomei) who is 'doing' his brother Hank every other Thursday in an ménage-a-trois smug Andy knows nothing about.

But Andy has a foolproof solution to everyone's financial woes with a whopping $600,000 payoff. They do over a small 'mom & pop operation' in a Westchester suburb on a Saturday morning when its quiet and elderly shop-hand Doris opens up at 0800 a.m. No guns, no problems, insurance pays up after they're gone - the only hitch is that it belongs to Charles and Nanette Hanson (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) - their own Father and Mother. Hank is amazed at such a suggestion at first - but soon money is bearing down on him and they commit. But Hank stupidly ropes in a barroom lowlife called Billy (Brian F. O'Byrne) because he doesn't have the guts to do the actual robbery himself (as requested by Andy). Bobby turns up on the day playing thrash metal in their rental car to get psyched up and packing a gun. And instead of Doris - mum Nanette opens Hanson Jewellers. But Mum isn’t about to cower in the corner...

The legendary Director of 12 Angry Men, The Verdict, Q&A, Network and Dog Day Afternoon - doesn't do 'nice'. Characters in this unfolding melodrama are mean and often unrelenting in their arrogance - and of course there's a price to pay for that when Daddy Charles (who at first seemed like a pushover) becomes obsessed with finding out 'who' so callously took his beloved wife from him.

Brilliantly written by Kelly Masterson - this is not an easy watch - its tone is brutal, nervy, unsettling and dark - and it pointedly refuses to go to redemptive for the ending (all the more realistic for not doing so). But what makes the movie tick is an astonishing troop of actors who could knock down walls with their skills. Principal among these is of course the recently passed Philip Seymour Hoffman whose scenes with a syringe hanging out of his chunky body lying on a bed now have a deeply sad and poignant feel to them. Not to be outdone - Ethan Hawke pours on serious acting chops throughout too - as does Marisa Tomei who bravely spends a lot of the movie conspicuously naked in long and awkward scenes with both Hoffman and Hawke. Michael Shannon and Brian B. O'Byrne only add to their huge portfolio of class work. Adding to all this quality is the powerhouse talent of Albert Finney who has to only sit at a table looking down -and say the words "Let Her Go" (about his wife) and he has you in tears.

Despite his advanced years - Lumet embraced digital technology with a vengeance because (as he explains in the Extras) he could get the 'eye-to-screen' visual quality and style he wanted. I mention this because filmed entirely in HD - the BLU RAY picture quality is fabulous throughout. The razor-sharp scenes filmed on sunny/leafy New York streets offer up a light and colour palette that is beautiful. It's also defaulted to 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio so fills your entire screen. AUDIO is English 51.1 DTS-HD and English 5.1 Dolby Digital while the lone SUBTTLE is English SDH.

The Documentary "How The Devil Was Made" includes interviews with the Director Sidney Lumet, Producers Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse, Actors Hoffman, Hawke, Tomei (and others) and location footage.

"You used to have the world by the balls...now I'm not sure you've got any..."  - arrogant Andy says to Hank as he pitches him the heist in a bar.

It may not be everyone's idea of Heaven but give this acidic little monster 10 minutes of your time...before...

PS: the USA disc is REGION A LOCKED so won't play on our machines - avoid that.

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