Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day Off

So I was back to daylight today, and decided to take Vera to the movies (a night owl's twisted logic.) There are a bunch of crime flicks out right now that I've been jonesing to see, and Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" was at the top of my list.

I'm a big 1970's/early 1980's film fan and Lumet pretty much owned crime/political procedurals with classics like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network and The Verdict. His films always featured nuanced performances and complex spins on morality. So I was pretty excited about him doing a caper picture with the interesting cast of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei. But it didn't work.

In Lumet's defense, this was largely due to the script, which structured the action in the already overused formula of the fractured narrative. You know, films like "Resevoir Dogs," "Memento," "Amores Perros" that jump back and forth through time to accent different character motivations and plot twists. The film used this structure and crashed a bad 90's heist film into a daddy-issue melodrama. It wasn't just the narrative that was split, it was the whole movie.

Lumet's strength has always been executing a straightforward narrative at a slow burn, throwing in some moral curveballs and filling it out with strong performances. He got the performances (especially Hoffman, who does a frightening quiet rage) but they're wasted on a pedestrian storyline that doesn't quite work as a caper or a family drama.

Lumet's 83, so I don't know how many more films he has left to make. But hopefully he can return to the hushed, wood-paneled courtrooms and skittish NYC streets of his finer work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was helpful to me. I love Lumet too and wanted to see this, but was nervous about the it-gets-worse-and-worse spiral I had heard about.