15 October 2007

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

This is the best movie I've ever seen that totally sucked. It has a fabulous cast (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Albert Finney), and very sharp individual scenes, some of which are extremely moving. So it's not that the screenwriter is totally bad.

However, it's a case where the whole is dramatically less than the sum of its parts. I think the Achilles' heel is the plot: how can you make a satisfying story about sympathetic characters, brothers, who decide to rob their parents' shop and in the process get their mother killed? They have to be sympathetic because otherwise you don't want to keep watching; but how can you justify such behavior? Well, the older brother (it turns out) is an embezzling junkie--doesn't that explain everything? And the younger brother is a terminal screwup--he'll pretty much do anything his older brother asks if he gets bullied enough. And there's more: pick a dysfunctional family trope and it's probably inserted somewhere in this story.

You watch attentively all the way through (while perhaps muttering, "What a family!" to yourself) because of the magnetic characterizations, and because you just have to see how it all turns out--in this sense, the movie totally works--but when the end comes, and the screen goes white, you feel robbed. That was it? You're left contemplating the movie's logic, and then it all falls apart--if the guy needed money, why didn't he just sell his expensive car? Why didn't he rob the drug dealer in the first place? What about the other brother? Where does the sister fit in all this?

Etc., etc. Not at all recommended.

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