Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sidney Lumet sidesteps the devil

Summary: "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is director Sidney Lumet's latest movie. Perhaps because most of us want the 83-year-old Lumet to keep making movies, "Devil" has been slightly overpraised. It's worth seeing, though, even if it doesn't earn a lasting place in your book of movie memories.

Lumet has a flair for mixing melodrama and realism, and he does it again in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," a small thriller that demonstrates the ways in which miscalculation -- driven by psychological frailty -- can produce tragic results. Although Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney hardly look as if they sprang from the same gene pool, they're cast are two brothers and their father in a story centered on a botched jewelry store robbery. By the end, I thought Lumet had pushed the proceedings too far over the top, and I couldn't suppress a yearning for the gritty textural richness that characterized the director's best urban work -- movies such as "Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Prince of the City" and "Q&A." Still, I went along for the ride with a movie that narrows its focus until its characters seem to scream with the kind of pain induced by lifetimes of mistakes.

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