Monday, April 21, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Grade C

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei; Director Sidney Lumet.

Bad editing can completely spoil an otherwise good movie, as this feature demonstrates. Hoffman and Hawke are brothers in contemporary New York, both desperate for cash; Hoffman because he is a junkie who has been embezzling from his firm, Hawke to make child support payments. They conspire to rob a jewelry store, but it goes wrong and two people are killed. For the rest of the movie they have to cover their tracks and deal with the consequences of their act and with their desperate lives. The ending is quite good. Alas, the editing, or lack of it, lets the pace sag to the point of boredom. It would be easy to cut at least 15 minutes (out of an unconscionable 2 hours) just by eliminating non-informational shots of cars moving down highways, people getting in and out of cars, and people walking down streets and hallways. These shots do not establish time or place and are just uninteresting, wasted film. Then entire irrelevant scenes could be cut, if not entire characters. Marissa Tomei does brilliant acting in two very short scenes but is otherwise in the movie only to show her breasts. They’re very nice breasts, but they contribute absolutely nothing to the story or characterization. Several long sequences with Finney and with Hawke should have been cut. The story is tediously spliced into overlapping flashbacks so we must endure the same scene multiple times, each from a different character’s point of view. The characters’ points of view are not important to the story and not that different anyway, so the technique serves little purpose and adds more deadwood. The redeeming virtues of the movie are strong plot and excellent acting by Hoffman and Finney. Hawke can act when there is a gun to his head, but otherwise he is undistinguished. Hoffman, however, gives 100% in every scene he is in and it is a pleasure to watch him.

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