In theaters this weekend
“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” ” The film begins with an unflinching depiction of a tubby Philip Seymour Hoffman having vigorous vacation sex with the shapely Marisa Tomei. It’s an image that’s clearly meant to jolt us, but it’s not nearly the most stunning or potentially implausible moment you’ll see over the next two hours.
Director Sidney Lumet, working from the first script by playwright Kelly Masterson, harkens to his own classic “Dog Day Afternoon” with this story of a heist fueled by desperation, in which one bad decision leads to another with devastating results. But the veteran filmmaker also seems to be aiming for family dysfunction and tragedy on a Shakespearean scale, which proves elusive.
Even for a group of innately selfish, screwed-up people such as these, the sabotage and double-crosses pile up to an extraordinary level. Hoffman and Ethan Hawke play brothers who plan to rob the jewelry store their parents own in suburban Westchester County, N.Y. Nothing goes right, which exacerbates their already precarious financial and emotional situations. Tomei co-stars as Hoffman’s trophy wife, with Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris as the victimized parents.
R for a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language. 123 min. Two stars out of four.
“Dan in Real Life” ” This love-triangle romance that plays out among Steve Carell, Juliette Binoche and Dane Cook during a family reunion is a surprisingly plain, sappy, even insipid comedy considering the filmmaker behind it. Director and co-writer Peter Hedges made a wonderful film debut with another family reunion tale, 2003’s indie charmer “Pieces of April.”
While the family there was truly messed up yet utterly endearing, the “Dan” clan is boring to the point of aggravation. Carell plays a widower with three daughters who falls for a woman (Binoche) he meets while running an errand during a reunion with his parents and siblings.
But she turns out to be the new girlfriend of his brother (Cook). With a heavy dose of sitcom artifice and gooey melodrama, the movie becomes toilsome. Occasional sparks between Carell and Binoche, along with a blithe soundtrack by Sondre Lerche, liven things up somewhat.
PG-13 for some innuendo. 98 min. Two stars out of four.
“Jimmy Carter: Man From Plains” ” This exceedingly respectful documentary plays like an infomercial, with director Jonathan Demme following the former president around as he promotes his latest book.
That the book ” “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” ” generated some controversy when it came out last year in no way means that the documentary itself will ever become controversial. Demme asked for and received constant, intimate access to the 39th U.S. president, and ensured his subject that he intended to make a “warts-and-all” film about him.
Turns out, Carter is a thoughtful, decent man who’s kind, warm and engaging with everyone he meets, whether he’s at a book signing, church barbecue or lunch with the honchos from Simon & Schuster.
Nevertheless, “Man From Plains” does reflect the complexities within Carter’s personality. Despite its impetus, the film seems more interested in the man than in the politician. But maybe that was smart ” there’s something refreshing about his humanity and guilelessness.
PG for some thematic elements and brief disturbing images. 125 min. Three stars out of four.
“Rails & Ties” ” Alison Eastwood seems to have inherited a couple of directing strengths from her father, Clint: a simplicity of vision and an ability to draw understated, nuanced performances from her actors. Then again, you really can’t go wrong with Kevin Bacon and Marcia Gay Harden, co-stars in Eastwood’s “Mystic River,” both of whom are consistently versatile.
Speaking of consistency, though, Alison Eastwood’s filmmaking debut is unrelentingly somber and maintains a feeling of restrained melancholy even during moments that are meant to be joyous. And it’s hard to get over the implausibility of the film’s premise, even though the characters themselves acknowledge that they’re in a ridiculous situation.
Bacon stars as train engineer Tom Stark, who’s been immersing himself in his work to avoid coping with the fact that his wife, Megan (Harden), probably will die soon of cancer. One day, his train hits a car driven intentionally onto the tracks, killing the woman behind the wheel.
The dead woman’s 11-year-old son Davey (Miles Heizer in a confident debut), who escaped the crash, ends up hunting down the Starks and moving in with them, instantaneously transforming them into the family all three had longed for and never known. Seriously.
PG-13 for mature thematic elements, an accident scene, brief nudity and momentary strong language. 108 min. Two stars out of four.