Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead further affirms Sidney Lumet’s place in the pantheon of American directors. Remarkably easy to follow despite a non-linear script, the movie looks at the decision leading to and aftermath of the robbery of a small jeweler by the sons of the owners. The script’s very well constructed — Kelly Masterson imbues a remarkable amount of sympathy for two characters who engage in such a selfish act — but it’s Lumet’s confidence in his actors and trust in his audience where things really shine. I’ve never had a real use for Ethan Hawke or Marisa Tomei, but their portrayals of people who are simply overwhelmed by events in their lives provide a nice counterpoint to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s masterful take on upper-middle-class asshole and Albert Finney’s very effective performance as the clan’s patriarch. There’s no grand speeches, no morality tale hammered home, just a story about lives derailed and spiraling towards an inevitable end. Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is on Watch Instantly, and you should.
Observe and Report is to Paul Blart: Mall Cop as Butch Cassiday And The Sundance Kid is to Young Guns 2. Jody Hill works some very black comic territory, using Seth Rogan’s finely-tuned performance as an unhinged rent-a-cop to remarkable ends. The movie isn’t a traditional comedy by any stretch — Aziz Ansari’s brief bits as a cart vendor harassed by Rogan provided some of the few actual laughs I had — but I was very impressed with how thoughtful and sad the movie managed to be even as it was tweaking expectations and leaving the audience wondering how much deeper down the rabbit hole it’d go.
The ending may be just a bit too pat, but Observe And Report is a very interesting take on the classic redemption comedy formula and it’s heartening how much control Hill obviously had over his production. One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about Hill’s recent strides in comedy is how he combines small-town ennui, Southern gothic tropes, and a disdain for the “American Dream” into biting satire that never goes for cheap “shocks” or and avoids gags that are just pumped-up versions of what The Daily Show‘s writing staff do on a nightly basis. It’s rare to see comedy that’s as smart as his that doesn’t genuflect before its own intelligence and edginess constantly. Like Lumet, it’s Hill’s lack of pandering and a deep trust in his audience that makes me appreciate his work even more.