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Image Entertainment presents
"You know, the thing about real estate accounting is that you can...you can add down the page or across the page and everything works out. Every day, everything adds up. You know, the total is always the sum of its parts. It's clean, it's clear, neat, absolute. But my life, it...it doesn't add up. Nothing connects to anything else. I'm not the sum of my parts. All my parts don't add up to one...one me, I guess."
DVD ReviewDirector Sidney Lumet may be 83 years old, but there's nothing stodgy or geriatric about his latest tour de force, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, an arresting, unsettling family melodrama that's also one of the most hip and vital movies of 2007. Aided by a smart script by Kelly Masterson, and impeccable performances by a muscular cast of film and theatre vets, Lumet proves he's still a Hollywood bad boy (or should I say bad ass?) who can more than hold his own when pitted against such current Tinseltown darlings as the Coen brothers and Paul Thomas Anderson. Few octogenarians could relate to this tragic, unpleasant tale of greed and betrayal, let alone present it in a manner that's in touch with today's social timbre and production techniques, but Lumet attacks the material with a vigor that belies his advanced age, and produces a supremely contemporary work that connects with the audience from the opening frames and grips us straight through to the closing credits.
The man who made a big cinematic splash with 12 Angry Men a half century ago (and followed it up with such classics as Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, Murder on the Orient Express, and Network, to name but a few) deftly wades through some murky waters here, as he chronicles the disastrous deeds of two desperate, tortured brothers who hatch a misguided plot to knock off their parents' jewelry store so they can score some quick cash. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) both naively believe the money will solve their mounting personal problems, but when the scheme goes horribly awry, they must not only try to evade suspicion and cover up their botched crime, but also confront their personal guilt, warped morals, crippling frailties, sibling rivalry, and—in Andy's case especially—destructive inner demons. It's a heavy load and Lumet only lightens it (rarely) with pitch-black comedy. Dread and doom hang over the picture, but the superior talents of the director and cast keep us aboard this runaway train even though we know a fatal wreck lies at the end of the tracks.
The screenplay employs a structure reminiscent of this winter's Vantage Point, constantly rewinding the story so it can unfold from various perspectives. To Lumet's credit, the technique doesn't seem as gimmicky as it did in the recent political thriller, and the way the script cleverly plays with time creates a number of mini mysteries that subtly ratchet up suspense. His keen narrative sense also keeps the various threads from fraying, and allows him to ultimately sew them into a tightly woven whole. Yet during this delicate process, the interactions between the characters are so raw and brutal (not to mention a graphic, animalistic opening sex scene that perfectly sets the tone), they're often difficult to watch, but they explore with such acuity the complexities of human desire, fear, and emotion, we resist the temptation to bail. And the reward for hanging in is sizeable.
Hoffman leads a band of thespian heavyweights, and his resonant bass voice, bulky frame, and intense aura make him yet again a formidable screen presence. As the grasping, arrogant Andy, whose insatiable hunger for the high life turns him into a lowlife, Hoffman files another astonishing, multi-dimensional portrayal. Hawke keeps pace, and cleverly exploits his own hyper-sensitive persona to bring the spineless, sniveling Hank to life. With a perpetual hangdog expression, unkempt hair, scruffy beard, and jittery, spindly demeanor, Hawke makes Hank the ultimate loser, someone we simultaneously pity and loathe. Marisa Tomei makes a strong impression as Andy's restless, two-timing wife, and Albert Finney files another stellar performance as the gruff family patriarch who can't connect emotionally with his troubled sons. Rosemary Harris, Amy Ryan, and Brian F. O'Byrne also lend critical support.
The multiple textures and moods, dimensional characters, and substantive themes elevate Before the Devil Knows You're Dead high above more typical thrillers. This uncomfortable, brilliantly told story will certainly make you squirm, but the delicate nuances littered throughout make multiple viewings mandatory to fully appreciate the film's characters, performances, and construction.
If Lumet can craft such a provocative, riveting movie at age 83, I can't wait to see what he comes up with when he's 90.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead was shot with HD cameras, so it's a Blu-ray natural, and the transfer scores well across the board. The muted color palette unfortunately limits the HD wow factor, but accurately mirrors the story's cold nature. The New York City and suburban exteriors are often a bit too bright, but detail is exceptionally crisp, and razor sharp close-ups allow us to drink in all the nuances of the performances. Blacks aren't as deep and rich as they could be (and often exhibit faint but noticeable noise), but contrast is potent enough to keep the eye happily engaged. Fleshtones look natural—the transfer renders both Hoffman's pasty complexion and Tomei's olive skin well—and no nicks or scratches mar the pristine image.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track adds rich atmosphere to this relatively quiet movie. Surround activity is limited, but makes the subtleties of the New York cityscape come to life. In interior scenes, every finger tap, footstep, and cock of the gun are distinctly rendered, and nicely punctuate the drama. Dialogue is always easily discernible, and Carter Burwell's understated but hypnotic music score enjoys a marvelous depth of tone. Sonic jolts, such as gunshots and car collisions, are appropriately powerful, thanks to good bass frequencies, and solid separation across the front channels provides a nice immersive feel.
A standard DD 5.1 track is also included for those without HD audio capabilities.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director Sudney Lumet and actors Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman
Packaging: standard Blu-ray packaging
Extras Review: Only a couple of extras adorn the disc, the first of which is an enlightening commentary track featuring a lively dialogue between Lumet, Hoffman, and Hawke. More of an actor's commentary than a director's commentary, we gain insight into the characters, their motivations, and how Hoffman and Hawke sought to portray two very different men. The three enjoy a wonderful rapport, and articulate their thoughts well. Lumet consistently lauds his stars and marvels that there was "never one empty take" throughout the entire production. He also discusses the advantages of shooting in HD, and recalls working with Katharine Hepburn in Long Day's Journey Into Night. This track enhances an already great film, and is required listening for those who appreciate the art of cinema.
The 24-minute documentary, How the Devil Was Made, chronicles the movie's production through interviews and on-set footage—all in glorious HD. We learn how Lumet defines the film as a melodrama rather than a conventional thriller, and how he beefed up and pared down the script to make the story more powerful. The director also expresses his affection for the increased focal depth and color control of HD photography, and how he rehearsed his cast of "theater rats" as if they were prepping a stage play. This is another high quality supplement worthy of attention.
The film's original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThough it didn't generate much box office during its theatrical release, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead remains one of the finest movies of 2007. Its mesmerizing story, masterful performances, and assured direction will keep you gripped from start to shattering finish, and the top-notch Blu-ray audio and video make the action unnervingly immediate. Highly recommended.
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