I'm not exactly sure how to start this review. For the last half of the movie I kept on trying to think of an analogy that would fit how it feels to watch this film. "Nails on a chalkboard" doesn't fit here because this movie wasn't rip-your-hair-out excruciating. Here's the best and most accurate analogy I came up with: watching this movie is sort of like having a canker sore--it's sort of painful, yet you can't leave it alone.
This was a limited release film, so here's a [2 minute] trailer to get you familiar with the story:
So there you go. I mean, going into it I knew it would be a little painful because of the amount of betrayal within the family, but it keeps getting worse as the film goes along. One thing that made this movie worth the pain of watching was the acting. I'm going to go ahead and say it: Philip Seymour Hoffman is in the top 5 on my list of best Hollywood actors. He can play just about any character--I have yet to see him fail in any role--and he is tremendous in this movie as the most villainous character (not quite the Mattress Man though). Ethan Hawke plays a very familiar role as a good guy who starts down the wrong path. Hawke is good in this, but he can't stand up to Hoffman's presence in some scenes the way he could stand up to Denzel in Training Day. Marisa Tomei does a fine job, as do the folks that play Hawke and Hoffman's parents (AKA Peter Parker's Aunt May and Jason Bourne's nemesis Dr. Hirsch). Hoffman and Hawke--but especially Hoffman--are what make this film work.
The direction is fine (Sidney Lumet, nominated for 5 Oscars; I've only seen 1 of the 5: Network) and the screenplay is good, especially considering that this was Kelly Masterson's first. There are times where a cinematic effect is used to transition backward in time and I found it to be very late-night-television-from-the-1960's-ish; I would much rather have had the scene transitions from Battlefield Earth).
Final Grade: B-
Blurb: This movie has great acting and a good storyline, but its painful nature makes it too hard for me to heartily recommend it to anyone. If it's possible, I would classify this movie as a good film ... that you shouldn't watch.