Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead (Blu-ray + DVD-Video/Image Entertainment)
Sound: B+/B- Extras: B- Film: B
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
(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
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.
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