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Category:    Home > Reviews > Crime > Robbery > Heist > Murder > Drama > Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (Blu-ray + DVD-Video/Image Entertainment)

Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (Blu-ray + DVD-Video/Image Entertainment)


Picture:  B+/C+     Sound: B+/B-     Extras: B-     Film: B



In his best film since Night Falls On Manhattan back in 1996, Sidney Lumet returns to top form with the heist thriller Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) which has the added element of family involvement that is not of the Gangster variety, but certainly of the dysfunctional kind.  With a story every bit as suspenseful, riveting and gritty as Bob Rafelson’s Blood & Wine, a conniving accountant named Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) decides he needs money and fast.


Always dumping on and manipulating his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawk) for the many years they have known each other, he convinces Hank to go along with a screwy idea.  They can rob a jewelry store, one owned by their parents!  They will do this without the parents knowing, they’ll keep what is grabbed, the parents will get the insurance and all will be untraceable.  However, Hank does not have the guts to do this himself, gets a friend to do the theft instead, their mother (Rosemary Harris) turns out to be at the store and nothing goes as planned.


The results are remarkable and as much a character study, the proper kind of melodrama that is not sappy, as Lumet points out on the audio commentary and Kelly Masterson’s screenplay delivers.  Then there is the cast, also including the usual great supporting actors we have come to expect from Lumet’s films, Albert Finney as the father and Marisa Tomei as the wife of one brother who will complicate things further by being with the other.


This was a great throwback work, yet is as modern as anything and far superior to most such films of its kind we have seen lately.  The fact of the matter is that mature, intelligent, realistic, adult works like this are not produced nearly as much as they should be and for all the tired, slick production we see, it is amazing how veteran Lumet can out-direct the vast majority of the last few generations of so-called filmmakers.


The other thing that is so impressive here is that he shot the whole film in High Definition and it is one of the first (outside of stylized “effects” works like Sin City) to look god and really work as a full feature film.  Following how HD shoots have worked for comedies (Superbad, Knocked Up) and not worked for hardly any Horror projects, we can now add thrillers to the genres HD has become viable for.  That would include David Fincher’s underrated Zodiac (see our HD-DVD review elsewhere on this site) and Roger Donaldson’s The Bank Job (a surprise hit due on Blu-ray) that show you can get away with shooting a thriller if you want to have a dark-toned, gritty look.  It may still be HD, but shocking watchable this early in the game.


The one distinct difference is that Lumet also comes from the stage and the glory days of live television in the 1950s where he was an innovator and more than any other director to date using digital High Definition, has immediately applied his advanced grasp of live TV to this HD shoot.  Francis Coppola had tried the same with his 1982 filmed project One From The Heart (reviewed elsewhere on this site) when he tried to bring back classic Hollywood block-style filmmaking and reinvent the way films could be made.  Lumet is not only picking up where he left off, but taking it the next step ahead.  Coppola’s first feature in ten years, Youth Without Youth, was his first HD shoot and will make for an interesting comparison.


The 1080p 1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image was not only shot in HD by Director Of Photography Ron Fortunato, but with the Panavision Genesis system and looks good for the way it has its color toned down.  It also has that rich look I have only seen in an HD production before with Zodiac, so this too will become a surprise demo disc for Blu-ray and high definition fans everywhere.  The anamorphically enhanced DVD version is a bit weaker in the Video Black department than I would have liked, but still plays back fine otherwise. 


Both versions offer regular Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that are not bad, but I much preferred the DTS HD Master Audio (MA) Lossless 5.1 mix exclusive to the Blu-ray, with clearer dialogue and shows off Carter Burwell’s score to much better effect.  Even Lumet’s earliest films, the majority of which are monophonic, had character in their sound design.  The same applies to his use of multi-channel sound.  It may not be what you would get from a blockbuster, but it does not need to be and is an example of how to do interesting things with quieter situations.


Extras (there can never be enough) for the film in both versions include a making of featurette including interviews with Lumet and the cast, the original theatrical trailer and a terrific audio commentary track with Lumet, Hoffman and Hawke that is one of the best we’ve heard in a while.  In DVD and especially Blu-ray, you will not be disappointed.


Finally, Lumet has decided never to shoot on film again, doing the best job yet of articulating why he sees this as better.  His argument is good, but I have to disagree with him on a few fine points.  One, he might be able to capture on HD what others can catch on film, but most cannot direct with his talent.  Two, Video Red is still not as good as film red, it is not as natural-looking as the best film stocks and why trash 100 years of an artistic medium?  Third, you have to go out of your way to get character in HD you get, along with happy accidents, only film can deliver.


Fortunately, this is Lumet and if he wants to continue to innovate in HD, I’m all for it.  The sooner he shoots again, the more lame HD shoots this and his next work(s) may prevent.  Either way, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is one of 2007’s most underrated gems and you should catch it as soon as possible.  Fans already have their orders in.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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