Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Give props to Sidney Lumet. His influence is everywhere. American Gangster is just the kind of film this prince of New York City would have directed in the 1970s. And Tony Gilroy's Michael Clayton owes much to Lumet's Network and The Verdict. So it's a kick that Lumet, 83, puts the younger mavericks to shame with a dynamite film that ranks with the year's best. The topic is a family coming apart. The Hanson brothers, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke), are in debt and at each other's throats. It doesn't help that divorced Hank is banging Andy's wife, Gina (a fireball Marisa Tomei). The desperate boys plan a robbery, just a mom-and-pop jewelry store in a suburban mall. The catch is that it's their mom (Rosemary Harris) and pop (Albert Finney). Working with the tlingly talented new screenwriter Kelly Masterson, Lumet fuses dark wit, suspense and tragedy into a time-shifting movie that vibrates with energy. All the actors are first-rate: Hoffman continues to astonish, Hawke digs deep to create a haunting portrayal of loss. And Lumet's direction dazzles, notably in the robbery scene, when things go wrong and Hank hyperventilates in the getaway car. No way you won't be knocked for a loop.

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From The Archives Issue 286: March 8, 1979