Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Dir: Sidney Lumet, 2007. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Michael Shannon. Drama.

Maybe it sounds odd to call a movie "great" if by the end it makes you feel like your soul was taken away, but Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is such a work. With an amazing ensemble cast and a non-linear script that reveals new facts about the characters all the way until the final shot--this is a film that reminds you how powerful dramatic fiction is supposed to work.

Through the different character's perspectives, the film is about the build-up and aftermath of a botched jewelry store robbery in the suburbs. Opening with the violent event, we soon find out afterwards that brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) planned the robbery together as a victimless crime in response to some urgent needs for money. But these aren't your typical, slick movie heist-men whatsoever. Andy is a somewhat well-off business accountant seeking escape for a more fulfilling life, while Hank is a single father who's desperately behind on child support. Part of what makes the film work so well is how the script gradually unfolds and clues the audience into new details as it plays, so the only other plot point worth mentioning here is that the store they rip off happens to be owned by the men's parents, Charles (Albert Finney) and Martha (Amy Ryan).

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Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 18, 2009 12:49pm

Factotum

Dir: Bent Hamer, 2005. Starring: Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor, Marisa Tomei. Drama.

Factōtum: n. An employee or assistant who serves in a wide range of capacities.

When it comes to Bukowski, the rest of the world can be separated into three categories: those who don't know he exists, those who praise his unconventional poetry and language, and those who detest his work and see him as a glorified alcoholic and womanizer. As far as films surrounding Bukowski are concerned, many are aware of or have seen Barfly, which attempts to paint a portrait of the man and his muses. I've mentioned Factotum to others and most are unaware of the film, just as I was unaware of others based on him and his work in general. The title is taken from a work of Bukoski's with the same name, which I have haven't read, nor have I seen other films surrounding his alter-ego and work, and this includes documentaries. A large part of me doesn't want to, which is why this film works well for me and others who are unaware of or not interested in doting on another poet. Matt Dillon's performance - and the film as a whole - makes it easy to take the film in for what it is, a movie about an alcoholic who is a writer, gambler, womanizer, and blue-collar misfit. You can find this person, give or take a few qualities, within most artists and writers. The fact that Dillon's character is named Chinaski instead of Bukowski, and that everything is centralized in a few events and acquaintances, removes the film from your traditional adaptation. In short, even if you are among those who don't like or don't know of the writer, you can enjoy this due to its lack of a "faithful" attachment to him or the work.

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Posted by:
Edythe Smith
Aug 30, 2010 2:01pm

In The Bedroom

Dir: Todd Field, 2001. Starring: Marisa Tomei, Sissy Spacek, Tom Wilkinson, Nick Stahl. Drama.

In Hollywood films about revenge a grieving family or friend or lover typically realizes that the only way to bring closure to the loss of a loved one is to turn vigilante and mete out the justice they were denied and we are usually meant to cheer them on as populist heroes. But in the 2001 film In the Bedroom, the "grieving family avenging a loved one" plot may be a familiar one but its execution is decidedly not because the cheap and manipulative tactics that get us as an audience fired up for spilled blood are nowhere to be found. This story of a middle aged couple dealing with the tragic death of their son and falling apart as their anger consumes them is the rare film where the idea of grief is not just a pretext for something “bigger.” The visceral, teeth-gnashing sense of loss that death brings—especially the grief that follows unexpected violent death—is allowed to unfold and hang in the air like the slow heavy unstoppable force of nature that it is and it’s unforgettable. This is the rare film about grief and death and vengeance that has no room for histrionics. It has no false notes. The director, Todd Field, is shockingly assured for what was his first feature length film and the incredible cast including Tom Wilkinson, Sissy Spacek, Nick Stahl, and Marisa Tomei hit rare notes of emotional honesty in their work.

Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek play Matt and Ruth Fowler, a well off middle aged couple getting on in their years in their small coastal Maine town. Matt is a town doctor and Ruth is the high school choir director. Their son Frank (played by Nick Stahl) is home for the summer before he starts college in the fall. He is seeing Natalie, a woman twice his age (played by the gorgeous and intriguing Marisa Tomei) with two small children, and this situation is cause for his mother’s concern and his father’s shy sense of pride in his son becoming a man.

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Posted by:
Jed Leland
Feb 18, 2009 12:18pm

The Wrestler

Dir: Darren Aronofsky, 2008. Starring: Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood. Drama.

Director Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain) returns to his roots by making a film with a bare-bones look reminiscent of his debut Pi. Aronofsky makes a far less polished film than its predecessors, as far as aesthetic design, focusing on performance above all else. The Wrestler is less plot driven than it is about the nature of desires, regret and one “broken down piece of meat”'s last shot at athletic glory.

Mickey Rourke (Barfly, Angel Heart) headlines the film as the wrestler in question, Randy “The Ram” Robinson. Although he did some supporting work in such films as Tony Scott’s Domino and Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City, it is as the title character of this film that Rourke put himself back on the Hollywood map. As a man fighting against time, desperate for one last shot at life in the spotlight before his body fails him, Rourke plays Robinson with unflinching honesty. It is one of those performances when actor and character become so integrally linked that it feels as if you're watching true life unfold. It is a brave and unabashed performance. One of the year’s finest.

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Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Jun 29, 2009 2:03pm
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