Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney Director: Sidney Lumet The film: Churning out live television dramas in the 1950s helped US director Sidney Lumet learn how to tell a story with little fanfare or fuss. And he honed those skills through such diverse, classic cinema as the Oscar-nominated Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and Network (1976). No matter what flourishes he chooses, character has always been at the heart of the matter with Lumet and he shows here that despite his advancing years, he has lost neither skill nor bite. Somehow though, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead hardly raised a ripple on release - save the dorks who latched on to the fact that Marisa Tomei gets her kit off. Not a bad reason for watching, but you'd have thought word of mouth would have spread about the water-tight script and two fine performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Lumet takes his chances as well, presenting the story in a non-linear form that might have your head spinning if not for the graphics that keep you up to speed as to exactly where in the piece we are. There's a failed heist at the centre of things and we are bounced between what happens before, during and after the event. But there's good reason, too, as Lumet slowly allows his characters to dissolve, to be brought down by their greed and guilt. Seymour Hoffman and Hawke play brothers - one's a successful banker with a trophy wife (Tomei) and a smack habit, the other a loveable loser. They try for some easy cash to bail themselves out of their respective binds - but it goes horribly wrong. And they have to deal with the fallout as everything crashes down around them. Lumet builds a sense of desperation and strips back their humanity to reveal that everything - in this world - is rotten to the core. You only have to look into the eyes of Albert Finney, as their father, to know all is lost, and to watch as Hawke masterfully allows his character to unravel. But the star of the show is Seymour Hoffman (above right with Hawke): as a man who has it all and nothing at the same time, he embodies just the right mix of bluff and bluster, and the me-first mindset of a man who has long ago lost his moral compass. The extras: Nothing out of the ordinary, but the behind-the-scenes featurette boasts some interesting in-depth interviews with the cast, and the film's producers. Seymour Hoffman and Hawke join Lumet for the commentary track and it's more a casual chat, with anecdotes. The verdict: A grim but gripping work from a master story-teller.