“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,” review by Susan Granger

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Esteemed director Sidney Lumet (“Serpico,” “12 Angry Men,” “Network,” “The Verdict,” “Q&A”) is still going strong at 83, proving it with this insightful, impeccably crafted crime drama that takes its title from the old Irish toast: “May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

Beginning with a steamy sex scene between Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei), a film noir about two financially pressured brothers emerges.

Andy’s a shady New York real estate accountant with an expensive drug habit, while his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a none-too-bright, divorced loser who owes child support to his ex-wife. Hank’s also having a clandestine affair with Gina.

So when Andy comes up with a plan to heist their parents’ (Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris) suburban jewelry store, Hank goes along with the idea. But Hank brings along a reckless accomplice (Brian F. O’Byrne) and the robbery goes dreadfully awry, adding murder and blackmail to the brothers’ monetary problems.

What makes it so intriguing is that screenwriter Kelly Masterson and director Lumet reveal the family melodrama out of sequence, shifting the audience’s perspective onto each of the characters. Utilizing high-definition technology, Lumet, cinematographer Ron Fortunato and editor Tom Swartwout further augment the tension with close-ups and show the same scenes from different viewpoints. Sure, it’s contrived and there are some loose ends, but the perverse impact is greater than the sum of its parts.

Delivering outstanding performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates anxious Ethan Hawke and vivacious Marisa Tomei, while Albert Finney is subtly menacing. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is a confident, compelling 9 with the moral undertones of classic Greek tragedy.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.