It's Movie Time
3:11 pm
Sun November 11, 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

The Devil will have his due.

Sidney Lumet knows the wages of sin. Dog Day Afternoon was a classic of the heist that went wrong with a performance by Al Pacino that went right. His newest crime in the city is Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, from an Irish toast, "May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead."

The brothers who rob their parents' Westchester jewelry store, Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) will surely be having a dialogue with the Hot One when their lives are through, and they have suffered through the Lumet circle of Hell-on-earth reserved for those not talented enough to avoid Nemesis even in this life.

Lumet quietly builds the cascade of troubles from a couple of simple mistakes in the crime's execution. Each moment is fraught with punishing possibilities, some just dumb luck, others straight out of existential responsibility. But each of those moments is bearable because Lumet has ascribed the fault to the right places. We may squirm at each turn of bad luck, but we are confident the forces of righteousness will prevail.

Like Orson Welles, Lumet isn't much interested in linear narrative as he cuts in and out of the four days before the heist and the week after. That non-linear presentation allows the audience to verify the early character-consistency estimates now played out at random times.

Befitting Lumet's seminal study of directing, Making Movies (1995), the shots are composed to show the growing alienation of the brothers from their father and each other. For example, a long shot of the two brothers assessing the damage has them placed like bookends, far apart but linked by the fate they are working out at that moment.

Their Greek tragic-like lives are exemplified before the robbery in the petty adultery and embezzling that already corrode all their relationships. Andy's Wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei), who is sleeping with Hank, fulfills the requirements of a Siren who may have no idea how dangerous she is.

The Devil will have his due.