Title: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Kelly Masterson
Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt), Ethan Hawke (Before Sunrise), Marisa Tomei (The Wrestler), Albert Finney (Two for the Road), Brian F. O’Byrne (“Doubt” on Broadway)
The Story: Two brothers come up with a fool-proof plan to hold up their parents’ jewelry store, but everything goes wrong.
How it Came to be Underrated: This was well reviewed, but underseen.
Why It’s Great:
- Remember, right after Pulp Fiction came out, when there was a flood of similar non-linear crime movies? Remember how bad those were? It was courageous for anybody to even look at another script from this well-worn sub-genre. I’m glad they did, because, lo and behold, it’s great. Lumet read the script, and he loved it, but he insisted on one change: the original script made the audience figure out on their own that it was jumping back in forth in time. Lumet realized that a guessing game like that only made the audience feel dumb. He said he’d love to direct it, but only if he could add title cards before every sequence, like “Hank: 3 Days Before the Robbery”, etc. Even if every other decision he made had been wrong, that alone would have made him the right director.
- Lumet was 83. He had been already been cashiered out of Hollywood with a Lifetime Achievement Oscar. Many of his recent movies had failed to deliver. Nobody would have guessed that he had a flat-out burst of street-smart aggression like this left in him. If his goal was to make to make all the other retirement-age directors look bad, he succeeded.
- How does Marisa Tomei’s performance manage to be both totally egoless and wildly sexy. Usually, that’s an either/or proposition. My favorite moment in the movie? When she carries a suitcase out of an apartment, awkwardly bumping it along the step. Style is the last thing on her mind. You can’t take your eyes off her.
- It’s so nice to see a heist movie that actually understands something about human nature. I hate movies where the hero gets lured into a crime, only to find out that a criminal mastermind has engineered a year-long con that includes letting the hero sleep with his girlfriend. That just isn't how crime works. Cons don’t let their marks sleep with their girlfriends. All crimes are petty crimes. Crime is not a clever thing to do. People commit crimes because they’re not thinking straight. People commit crimes because they’re hurt and they’re angry and they want to get theirs.
Underrated Compared To: every other heist movie from the last ten years. Seriously, was there another good one I’m forgetting?
If You Like This, You Should Also Check Out: Another great underrated Lumet crime movie was Prince of the City. Lumet has had a brilliant 55-year career (so far), stretching from to Twelve Angry Men through Fail Safe and Network and at least a dozen other movies that everybody should see.
How Available Is It?: On dvd and Watch Instantly
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