Wednesday, October 03, 2007

an antidote to the glorification of crime in cinema

In the distant past, back when the Rat Pack was walking the street, there was made a film called Ocean's Eleven. The film was basically an excuse for Sinatra and his buddies to be in Las Vegas for a few weeks and get paid while they were partying all night. The film is somewhat forgettable, and is only noteworthy today for the remake which was made a few years ago.

In the original Ocean's Eleven, the bad guys lose all the money at the end of the film. That ending was in line with the dominant moral philosophy of the time, which said that crime must not be shown to be lucrative in film. After all, every film must demonstrate the truth of the notion that crime doesn't pay.

The remake with Clooney, Pitt and the gang had a much different ending, as I'm sure everybody reading this knows. Indeed, in recent years films like the Oceans' Eleven series, Entrapment, the Italian Job remake, The Score, etc. Indeed, the fantasy theft caper is a booming genre in Hollywood these days.

So, I decided to see an English-language film in Montpellier, after sitting through Shoot 'Em Up in French a couple weekends past. (Oh, I'm sure I missed the subtleties of that film because of the language barrier!) This evening I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, and Marisa Tomei.

I really liked this film. I recommend it highly to everybody. It is an antidote to the trend of glamorizing crime in films of recent years.

(minor spoilers follow)

This film concerns a robbery planned by a man named Andy, played by Hoffman, and his brother named Hank, played by Hawke. Andy and Hank are both short on cash, so they decide to rob a small jewelry store in a suburban strip mall, a "Mom and Pop" place. The film starts with the robbery, which goes horribly wrong when the robber, who is a third man, is shot by the old woman alone in the store. In retaliation he shoots her back, critically injuring her, before she shoots him again and he flies through the glass door of the store, startling Hank, who has been waiting outside in a car in a curious moustache, wig, hat and glasses disguise. Hank drives off, swearing.

The film is told from three points of view, those of Hank, Andy, and their father, Charles. The magnitude of the fiasco is slowly revealed.

First, we find out that the store was not just any "Mom and Pop" store. It turns out that the Mom and Pop were Charles and his wife, Nannette. The plan was to hit the store when the place was manned by a nearsighted employee, Doris.

Then it's revealed that it wasn't Doris there after all.

As even more secrets become revealed, the fiasco slowly crushes all of the people involved. Decisions that seem initially innocuous ultimately turn out to have drastic implications.

I am a fan of realism in films, and the crime genre has been in need of a jolt of reality to the fantasy fare that audience have been gobbling up in recent years. What this film underscores is that crime is borne of selfishness and hatred, and the path taken can have severe consequences. Thankfully, this film does not fall into the opposite trap common in serial killer films (and much of TV crime), namely viewing life through a "good guys vs. bad guys" filter, where there are a certain number of "crazy" or "evil" people out there just waiting to prey on the weak and innocent. This other genre feeds the police state mentality, while the caper genre feeds the guilt-free capitalist mentality.


Jolene said...

I've never even heard of this movie - sounds interesting - maybe I'll have to go see it. (Or rent? Is it still in theatures?)

And I think you are a man after my own heart - I have a thing for realism to. Although that doesn't really explain my love for the Bourne films or the TV show Alias. Hmm. Maybe I just like good-looking spies.

whispers said...

The film was recently premiered at the Toronto film festival, and for some reason the first country where it's in wide release is France. You can check for the US release date - I think it's later this year.

September is a big month for film releases in France for some reason. A lot of Summer releases get delayed until September - the latest Bourne film is a good example. I also like good-looking spies and certainly have always enjoyed Bond flicks, but it's also fun to see something a bit more realistic like a Le Carre-based spy drama. I highly, highly recommend the BBC productions from the late 70s/early 80s featuring Alec Guiness.

Jolene said...

I'll have to look out for it.

Also, I have no idea what a "theature" is. I do usually know how to spell. This is clearly French Blogger's fault.