Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
(2007), Sidney Lumet. Jan 1, 3:45 pm. View count: One. Solaris
(2002), Steven Soderbergh. Jan 1, 6:30pm, and Jan 2, 10am with commentary. View count: Two. Before The Devil Knows You're Dead
(the first movie we've seen at our local theatre, the Rafael): I am sadly, sadly deficient in Sidney Lumet's work; I think apart from this one I've only ever seen Network and 12 Angry Men. This had a few structural annoyances (a perhaps overdone structural partial-inversion) and some fairly obnoxious I! Am! Cutting! Rapidly! With! Gunshotty SFX! kind of stuff, but each was ignorable.
The awesome part of this movie was the awesome part of every Lumet movie I've seen: characters. He seems to get these excellent actors and give them these complex, deep, badass parts that they then play the heck out of. Everything a character does is development.
Along these lines, I must record my favorite shot. The setup is that Philip Seymour Hoffman's wife is asking him for money, and she's standing in front of him waiting to be given it. Between the camera and her, however, is a room divider, a partial wall separating the entryway from the dining room or something, It's painted sky blue. Philip Seymour Hoffman takes the money out of his wallet, and hands it to her, his hand disappearing behind the wall. He draws it back empty, and gives her another bill, passing it into the nothing-space behind the wall again.
Oh, it's just so good. His money just goes away into nothingness. This is an important character reinforcement, too.
I don't want to spoil this, because I believe the structural semi-backwardness is because of a particular revelation, so it's fairly important. It's a heist-gone-wrong movie, that much is advertised, but it is a rather deep and meaty one, characterwise. There's also the fun element of being able to feel the director's age; the older characters are more active and morally unshakable than the young whippersnappers. It's nice to see. Solaris
: I'm glad to have seen this, although I really want to see the first version from the 70s (Solyaris) now. IMDB says the Soderbergh version is a full hour shorter than it is, which makes me think that perhaps it could fix the biggest issue I had with the remake: we didn't get enough time with Protagonist and his personal Solaris experience. I like the story as more of a dreamlike realitybender, but this version was all about a straightforward choice between fantasy and reality.
Taking the movie on its own merits, though (Cameron (producer) said on the commentary track that Soderbergh's choice was to make this about emotional resonance rather than philosophical, which definitely comes through), there were still a few problems. [Spoilers, I guess, if you care] When the wife (the Irish second-in-command
from Ronin, btw) first shows up, we don't know she's dead in real life. We don't even know she is the image of his wife. We just know she's very spacey and weirdly semi-aware of things. This makes Protagonist's sudden decision to essentially space her (I wish he had actually done so, rather than used some kind of escape pod) pretty unintelligible. We get it in retrospect, of course, but that's just not the same as feeling his revulsion with him; there's too much going on for the viewer to just feel it as-is. And then he is converted to thinking of her as a real person almost instantly, with no visible thought or mental wrestling; it feels like he just snap-decides to retreat from reality and that is that.
I've been reading a couple of Pirx the Pilot books, and I'm pleased to see the commonality. George Clooney is a good Lem protagonist, a quiet, maladjusted, square-jawed professional.
Visually it's quite nice; the right lessons were taken from 2001, almost to the extent of some serious homage. The camera is nice and restrained. The casting is good, a small cast that includes Pvt. Toffler
from Ravenous (amusingly, the first we see of him, he's listening to an Insane Clown Posse song (you can tell because they mention juggalos!), and I seem to recall that chmmr looked them up once and found that they had religious underpinnings. In Ravenous, he's humming and 'composing a religious hymn' throughout. This is only fun for me personally, I think).