Dir. Sidney Lumet, US, 2007, 117 mins
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney
Review by Carol Allen
This film has certain echoes of Lumet's Dog Day Afternoon, in that it looks at first like one sort of film, in this case the "heist gone wrong" genre, which then becomes something far more interesting and character based. The story is told in reverse order of events, kicking off with a raid on a jewellery store in a very tense and shocking sequence and developing into an almost Shakespearean scale contemporary tragedy about a father's relationship with his two sons.
Andy (Hoffman), who is in deep trouble due to his expensive drug habit, which he has been financing by cooking the books of his company, persuades his younger brother Hank, who also has money worries, that their problems can be solved by robbing their parents' jewellery store. The stock is all insured, the sales clerk won't put up a fight, so no-one will get hurt. But things go wrong when Hank gets cold feet and hires a small time crook to do the job, who turns out to be gun happy and the person opening the store that day is not the sales clerk but the brothers' mother Nanette (Rosemary Harris), who does put up a fight.
The structure makes the film particularly engrossing, jumping back in time as it does to give us the background to the previous sequence of events and then taking the story a bit further forward. Andy, for example, appears at first to be a straightforward smiling villain. The complexities of his situation, the fact that the owners of the store are his parents and the heist was planned to be a victimless crime are only revealed as the film progresses. It's a very elegant and constantly intriguing device, full or surprises, totally clear with a couple of exceptions and with dramatic irony in spades. The three main performances are all first class – Hoffman, Hawke and the wonderful Finney as their father Charles, who is particularly moving in his grief for his wife, who is mortally injured in the robbery, and whose frustration over the police's inaction is what forces the dark dynamics of his family into the open and towards its tragic conclusion. Rosemary Harris makes the most of her smallish role but the way Andy's wife Gina ((Marisa Tomei) is presented is unnecessarily confusing.
As a prologue to the main action we have a scene of her and Andy making love. We later learn she is having an affair with Hank, all of which give the impression that she is some gold digger playing the brothers off against each other in the hope of getting her hands on the loot. It is only later that we realise she is Andy's wife and the affair is a reaction to her husband's neglect. One is also tempted to wonder why Charles and Nanette, who appear to be loving grandparents to Hank's rather spoiled brat of a daughter, didn't offer to pay the expensive school fees, which are Hank's motivation for the robbery. If they had, of course, there would be no film, and that would be a pity as apart from those small quibbles, it's actually a very good one.