Director Sidney Lumet turned 83 this year, and his debut feature, 12 Angry Men (1957) turned 50. Most film buffs count that film among the great debut films in history, and Lumet has certainly gone on to make many more classic films: Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), The Verdict (1982) and Running on Empty (1988), among others. However, most film buffs also agree that, despite his notable debut, Lumet is more of a superior craftsman than an artist and that his long filmography -- more than 50 movies and TV shows -- contains just as many clunkers as it does hits. But here's the good news about a craftsman: he usually learns from his mistakes and gets better and better. And Lumet's two most recent films, last year's Find Me Guilty and the new Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, are among his best.
The bad news is that when Hollywood people and moviegoers hear the thing about Lumet being 83 years old, they'll probably stay away from the new film, as they stayed away from Find Me Guilty a year ago. Lumet has also made the commercial mistake of telling a jewel heist story and telling it straight, without any of the jokey, self-referential stuff that drives most post-Tarantino crime movies. Lumet's movie is about people rather than jewels or guns. And, at 83, he knows a thing or two about people.