Less Sidney Lumet's comeback than his resurrection, this violent family melodrama is his strongest movie in at least two decades. It pivots on the relationship between two unlikely brothers—the manipulative elder and weak-willed younger. Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a deadbeat dad perpetually behind on his child-support payments and regularly browbeaten by his singularly vindictive ex-wife (Amy Ryan). Indeed, it seems to be the money that his young daughter needs for a class outing to see The Lion King that pushes hapless Hank into joining his smooth-talking older brother, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), in a scheme to rob their parents' Westchester jewelry store. To add to the familial intrigue, Hank is carrying on an affair with Andy's restless trophy wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei), and Andy hates his father, Charlie, played by Albert Finney. This is a movie with a surplus of agonized male grimacing. There are some scenes in which Hawke's face is contorted beyond recognition, and others where he and Hoffman seem on the verge of upchucking from the stress. Shot like a bleary morning after, full of powerhouse scenes and over-the-top situations in nondescript locales, Before the Devil is a pulverizing experience.
Hoffman: evil runs in the family.
Opens at Egyptian, Fri., Nov. 2. Rated R. 117 minutes.