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Her role in Sidney Lumet's "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead," out Friday, doesn't do much to remedy this cinematic dearth. But it certainly continues to demonstrate the dramatic chops Tomei so deftly earned in 2001's "In the Bedroom" (for which she garnered a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination). In Lumet's film, Tomei plays Gina, the coddled wife of Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and the lover of his brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke). Both siblings find themselves in dire financial straits, so Andy hatches a plan to rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store. The catch? It belongs to their Mom and Pop (Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney). Things go woefully awry and the consequences unfold like the most brutal of Aeschylean plays.
Of all the miserable characters — and there are few smiles to be had in "Before the Devil..." — Tomei's Gina seems most likely to emerge unscathed. Perhaps it's because her expectations are rather low.
"I think that it was her life's goal in some ways to not have to think for herself and just have someone else make all the decisions for her," muses Tomei. "Her kind of basic approach to life is just survival mode...how can she feel good in the next five minutes? How can she feel good through the next day? She's still a complex person inside, but she's not someone who knows herself."
Tomei can sympathize with the latter sentiment. The actress famously won an Oscar at 28 for her supporting role in "My Cousin Vinny," beating out revered industry vets like Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson. The aftermath (including speculation that presenter Jack Palance had accidentally read out the wrong name) was less than glamorous.