Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (2007)

devil knows


harmonic tragedy

Several things can, and have been praised about this film, on different levels. Some are competent, others rather interesting, and another one absolutely remarkable.

Here we find a top director at the top of his game in what concerns exploiting actors. He pushes where he knows he can and should push, and he reaches peaks of useful intensity that few other directors are able to reach. Hoffman is a natural choice for the kind of work Lumet does. He is one of the most focused and self-conscious actors these days, and what he does here is as coherent as it is punctuated by eternal moments. One of those moments (the hysterical breakdown in the car, with Tomei) is absolutely on both actors hands, and Lumet only had basically the more expressive moments of each actor. But another scene is a beautiful collaboration between Lumet and Hoffman: the monologue at the drug dealer’s home. There we had a transcending actor, and the director of ’12 angry men’: centered on characters, yet spatial. It is that space awareness that, to me, makes me go to Lumet’s films. There is not one single inner set where space isn’t taken care of, whether we have camera movement or not. Notice, it is the character, and not the space, that determines the movement, the pace, the ton. But the space is fully exploited to serve it. I think we have that in some moments with Antonioni, but no one does it so consistently as Lumet has done it through all his career.

For more than once, i remarked on how i don’t like Ethan Hawke. His interview on the making of of this film underlines the reasons why i don’t like him. But i admit he fits well in the melodramatic tapestry Lumet created here. Again, like in ‘Great Expectations’, he is as clueless about anything as his character, but here he understands the pace. I suppose Lumet is to be reckoned for that as well.

The other point that interests is how the narrative is shaped. What we have here comes in the line of what Iñarritu/Arriaga have done, eventually some Figgis’ work. It doesn’t advance in anyway anything of what they have done, but it is pretty impressive how Lumet acknowledged the storytelling evolution and merged his cinematic talent with it. What evolution is that? Basically, it is the consideration of a complex world in which we don’t follow a single line, instead several of them, which intersect, each one with the potential power to affect all the others. It’s a matter of considering the harmony of 3 different melodies juxtaposed, instead of just following one of them. That’s what cinema has been doing.

My opinion: 4/5

This comment on IMDb


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