Sunday, January 08, 2012

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (the Finnish dvd release title) / Innan djävulen vet att du är död (the Swedish title on the print). USA © 2007 Capitol Films. PC: A Unity Production / Linsefilm, Ltd. Production. EX: Belle Avery, Jane Barclay, David Bergstein. P: Michael Cerenzie, William S. Gilmore, Brian Linse, Paul Parmar. D: Sidney Lumet. SC: Kelly Masterson. Digital cinematography: Ron Fortunato – technical specs (IMDb): camera: Panavision Genesis HD Camera, Panavision Primo Lenses – lab: Technicolor, USA – camera format: HDTV – source format: HDCAM SR (1080p/24) – digital intermediate in 2K – released on: 35 mm – 1,85:1 – colour. PD: Christopher Nowak (prod. des.), AD: Wing Lee , set dec.: Diane Lederman. Cost: Tina Nigro. Make-up: Patricia Regan, Jeong-Hwa Fonkalsrud. Hair: Wayne Herndon, Diana Sikes. M: Carter Burwell. S: Dave Paterson. ED: Tom Swartwout. Loc: New York City: Bayside, Queens (jewelry store) – Douglaston, Queens (Hanson's house) – St. Agnes Hospital, White Plains, New York. Studio: Hell Gate Studios, Astoria, Queens, New York City. Casting: Ellen Lewis. CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman (Andy), Ethan Hawke (Hank), Albert Finney (Charles), Marisa Tomei (Gina), Aleksa Palladino (Chris), Michael Shannon (Dex), Amy Ryan (Martha), Sarah Livingston (Danielle), Brían F. O'Byrne (Bobby), Rosemary Harris (Nanette), Blaine Horton (Justin). Swedish classification length: 3188 m / 117 min. A 35 mm SFI-Filmarkivet print with Swedish subtitles by Jennifer Warrender viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (A Tribute to Sidney Lumet), 8 Jan 2012.

The motto before the title: "May you be in heaven for a full half hour"
The title: "Before the Devil knows you're dead". (From a traditional Irish saying).

My first visit to Cinema Orion since my traffic accident 41 days ago, the last screening of our season from late August till early January, the last movie directed by Sidney Lumet, which went straight to dvd in Finland but was released theatrically in 35 mm in Sweden.

It was a great pleasure to meet the cinema staff and the Orion regulars and sit on my regular place again in one of our top comfort seats. Installed in 1977 by Leo Karni then collaborating with the WSOY publishing house, they are still widely appreciated as the best seats in Helsinki.

This was the first Sidney Lumet retrospective in Finland, and as was the case in many prominent Lumet obituaries, it was largely an occasion for reappraisal and rediscovery. I was struck by the positive reaction of the young cinephiles. Sidney Lumet has not always been considered a hot director, but his body of work is full of fresh approaches and frank attempts to reinvent himself: in the 1950s he was a leading director of the television generation, in the 1960s he was profoundly influenced by Alain Resnais and the Rive Gauche (Fail-Safe, The Pawnbroker), in the 1970s he was maybe at his best with the New Hollywood inspired gritty street realism and the new generation of actors such as Al Pacino.

In his last movie Sidney Lumet took up the challenge of Quentin Tarantino and created something surprising and original from a grim contemporary crime story. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead does not feel like an old man's film. The time labyrinth structure has an affinity with Tarantino but can also accurately be said to be influenced by Resnais. There is frank sex and violence in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but the frank scenes are motivated.

Interestingly, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead seems also to reflect Lumet's personal favourite film, his movie adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night. In both, there is the overbearing father (Ralph Richardson / Albert Finney), a self-made man from whose shadow the sons (here: Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) can never rise. The stories differ completely as to the mother figure whose fragility is central in the Eugene O'Neill tragedy; in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead she and the father are equally strong. There is a surprising but logical tragic ending in the Devil, probably the most devastating in Lumet's oeuvre.

And awesome finale to Sidney Lumet's awesome career which started in the 1920s as a child actor.

The digitally photographed Before the Devil Knows You're Dead may be the visually shabbiest theatrical movie in Sidney Lumet's career. The print was excellent, but the trouble stems probably from the original digital cinematography. The lighting obscures facial expressions, and there is an overall shoddiness in the visual quality which cannot be intentional.

1 comment:

Anton Asikainen said...

I always look forward to these long essays of yours which in their perfect clarity are a joy. Orion is lucky to have you back.