Sunday, November 25, 2007

TRH Movie - Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

My RRHB is away in Sudbury recording, so I decided to do something completely and utterly out of character: I went to the movies by myself. At night. On a Friday. I had a book (in a very Rory Gilmore moment) for the pre-show annoying commercials, I had popcorn, and I had a ridiculous urge to see Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. Not simply for the whole Ethan Hawke factor, but more so because I had heard and read so many great things about the film, that I wanted to see it before it disappears from theatres in Toronto. My poor aunt, with whom I had plans to see the movie in the first place, fell ill with a nasty case of pneumonia, which meant that she needed to stay home in bed. I was looking forward to seeing her, but of course, I'm wishing she gets better by resting up. So, I went alone. It's character building right?

Annnywaaay, that got me out in relative suburbia by 7 PM on a Friday night with hundreds of other happy movie goers. Surprisingly, I didn't feel too weird being there by myself, happily lined up, got my ticket, the good seat by the railing and settled in with The Luxe before the movie started. It being Friday, there were tonnes of people around me, too much perfume, too much chatting, and I got stuck in a slightly broken chair. Not off to a good start, but the film soon sucked me in so much that it wouldn't have mattered where I ended up sitting and how uncomfortable I was by the end.

And when the movie starts, it's deceptively quiet. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, a relatively successful accountant whose desperately in love with Gina, his wife, played by Marisa Tomei. While on vacation in Brazil, they seem to reconnect, to discover what's important, even if it soon becomes apparent that they're both moving in different directions. Once home, Andy feels that getting back to Brazil and starting all over again will save their marriage. He sets out on a dangerous course to try and get them there, involving his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) in a plot meant to knock off their parents jewelry store. Money problems solved, right?

Both brothers are stuck in situations entirely of their own making: Andy addicted to various substances, including his wife; Hank suffering the fall-out of a truly bad marriage who can't quite keep away from the drink long enough to actually be a man and stand up for himself. Things go from bad to worse when all the plans for their so-called victimless crime wreck havoc on the lives of everyone around them, and then some. There's not a single character in the film that makes you feel any kind of sympathy, even when Andy pours his broken heart out to his dealer in a pristine environment to shoot yuppie smack, you're shouting at him in your mind to just do the right thing, to not let what's about to happen happen. And as the situation goes from very bad to worse than one could possibly imagine, you desperately want them all to wake up and face their lives with a level of honesty that might redeem them in the end.

On the outside, everything looks great, if life were all about appearances. Andy and Hank wear their suits well, and they go through the motions, either truly able to weather the line between right and wrong with any kind of cold-hearted integrity. While the film's really about the men, it's a bit of a shame that all the female characters, with the exception of the mother (and for reasons that I won't spoil here), feel overplayed and under-written, Gina's all body with no heart, and Amy Ryan (who plays Hank's beleaguered ex-wife) doesn't do much more than swear (rightfully so) at her ex. As well, at first I was put off by the terribly derivative way of storytelling, of showing one event and then switching back to the "2 days before the robbery."

But as the film progresses, the device becomes more and more effective, a way for the film to show the events from multiple perspectives, fitting everything back together with a point of view that only a skilled filmmaker like Lumet could pull off. Kelly Masterson, the film's screenwriter, has created a terrifyingly bleak world with a cast of characters who cut so close to the bone of the human condition that they become more compelling the worse they act, each personifying an age-old sin representing all that's wrong with our world. Events of the film are so shocking that at one point, a woman behind me shouted, "OH MY GOD!" when something particularly awful took place.

It's an excellent film that explores right and wrong, good and bad, and all of the other black and white morals that refuse to let the characters out of their grasp for a second. Regardless of the unlikable nature of any of the characters, the performances in the film are riveting, and as much as I never want to inhabit that kind of a world, I do have to admit that it makes for one hell of a movie.


indigo herself said...

we just saw this too! it is the kind of movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat without even realizing it... i really felt they had a tight script with solid performances all around. kudos to ethan hawke for taking the cry baby brother role, he can obviously set his ego aside. it's subtle and well put together. liked it a lot.

metro mama said...

I don't mind going to movies by myself. I do it quite frequently, 'cause often no one wants to see the same movie as I do!

Top on my list for Dec is No Country for Old Men.

b*babbler said...

Wow! I'm really stuck down a rabbit hold, and had no idea that this movie was out there, but I'm ready to lay out my cash to go and see it now. Fabulous review!

Gallis said...

You see, this is why I will go and see Enchanted.

And I Am Legend, because you just can't go wrong with Wil Smith and a dawg and it won't make me cry. LOL!