Does Sidney Lumet know he’s dead?

22 May, 2008

So I watched Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead last night, which was hailed by critics as Lumet’s return to form after about 25 years of drivel. For a movie as well-directed and well-acted (Holy shit! Ethan Hawke is actually good for once!) as this — with strong dialogue and yet another broodingly delicious score by Carter Burwell — I was pretty damn disappointed.

For the first half I was totally gripped. I loved seeing the events leading up through the robbery from each character’s POV. But then the aftermath came. And the structure totally fell apart. If you’re going to go the Rashomon route with your story, keep it consistent. Don’t jump all over the place, splitting brilliantly acted scenes in half just so they’ll serve what has now become a gimmicky device. Take a cue from Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, an effective (if uneven) picture precisely because of its structure. Three separate experiences during one night in Memphis. Some characters overlap, some don’t. But you’re always invested in the characters because the structure is consistent. Not so here.

What is it with critics? I guess if so much of what they see is garbage, they’re more likely to overpraise a movie that’s only slightly better than everything else. I didn’t hate this picture, but just because it wasn’t unbelievably horrible like that Vin Diesel flick he had just made, doesn’t mean it’s a masterpiece.

I only had time to watch a bit of the featurette on the DVD, up through Lumet talking about melodrama and why it’s great and why it was effective for this particular script. No argument there, Sidney. But I wonder if he tried to justify the structure at all. It’s gonna take a lot to convince me.

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