Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)
To think that Sidney Lumet directed one of the previous century's best films, 12 Angry Men, already back in 1957 puts quite a lot of things into perspective when viewing Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. In the 50 odd years which have passed in the meantime, the veteran has had his obvious slip-ups in the director's chair, but few filmmakers have been so productive and devoted to the medium of film as Lumet. This heavy drama, despite its drawbacks, represents a return to form for the 83-year-old.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead deals with tragic lives in and around a New York family. The explicit themes are classic instances of money trouble and a failed robbery, with Lumet being able to deliver a little kick at the American welfare system in the process, but what is really discussed here is the mental break-up of three different characters and how they are able to handle this process individually and interpersonally. Make no mistake about it; this is as sombre and intense as it sounds, and Lumet's attempt at alternative narrative structuring doesn't help the case in this matter - it might make the film more intriguing, but it also makes the picture more onerous.
Still, the strength of the material and the powerful performances Lumet is able to get from his performers make the film effective - the most notable achievement being how we get to feel each characters emotional state and frustration deeply. Maybe this is the kind of film which makes you want to hug your loved ones a little longer the next time you see them. And, not for the first time, Philip Seymour Hoffman is the main reason why the characters make such an impact.