Movie Review – Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead

Taut, terrific crime drama has plenty of nice twists, and a riveting finale, thanks to the superb performances of the entire cast, and a searing screenplay by Kelly Masterson. Films of quality don’t come much better than this.


– Summary –

Director :  Sidney Lumet
Year Of Release :  2007
Principal Cast :  Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Brian F O’Byrne, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon.
Approx Running Time :  123 Minutes
Synopsis:  When two brothers organize the robbery of their parents’ jewelry store the job goes horribly wrong, triggering a series of events that sends them, their father and one brother’s wife hurtling towards a shattering climax.
What we think :  Taut, terrific crime drama has plenty of nice twists, and a riveting finale, thanks to the superb performances of the entire cast, and a searing screenplay by Kelly Masterson. Films of quality don’t come much better than this.


Brilliant, scintillating heist-thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman as brothers, both struggling to survive under increasingly desperate money problems, who resort to a jewellery heist to try and bail themselves out of trouble. Problem is, it’s their parents jewellery store, and when things take a horrible, deadly turn for the worse, their great plan at getting rich quickly begins to unravel.


Directed by Sidney Lumet, best known to audiences for films like Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, 12 Angry Men and even Network, crafts a wonderfully tense and brutal thriller, both emotional and riveting in it’s execution and delivery. Told in a kind of Tarantino-esque way, using each characters point of view from different times, Lumet allows the drama to unfold within itself, using the cast to maximise the intimate and devastating events which create a sense of increasing desperation within the family. Hawke and Hoffman play off each other really well, Hank (Hawke) being the down-on-his-luck family man now separated from his wife and daughter and struggling to make his child support payments, among other things. Hoffman, as the more affluent brother Andy, with a high paying job in a property firm, is trying to keep his wanton and sexually promiscuous wife (Marisa Tomei, in a performance unlike any we’ve seen from her before… most of which is spent with little-or-no clothes on!) under his thumb, with promises of moving to Rio de Janeiro ensuring his money problems keep mounting. The fact that he hides a drug habit also plays upon his fortunes, and when he approaches his brother with a plan to solve their money problems, Hank agrees with a minimum of fuss.


Their plan involves holding up their parent’s jewellery store, a fairly risk free affair they believe, since there’s little security at the mall the shop is in, and their parents don’t’ work there on the weekend they’re planning to do the job. Hank drags a friend along for the job, and sends said friend into the store to do the deed, while Hank waits outside with the engine running in the getaway car. Inside the store, the friend and Hank and Andy’s mother engage in a small shoot-out, which ends with the mother on the floor of the shop in a pool of blood and the friend outside on the pavement, dead. Andy and Hanks father ,Charles, played with energetic sympathy by Albert Finney, wants revenge on the man who shot his wife, he wants to know why the store was robbed, and how his wife was killed. The police seem reluctant to probe deeper, so Charles takes it upon himself to delve deeper.


This, of course, brings him into potential collision with his own sons, who try desperately to extricate themselves from the whole thing in a variety of ways. And it’s here that the dreadful tension of the film is developed, as the brothers try and get out of what they’ve done. The death of their mother from an event orchestrated by them both leads to an enormous amount of guilt, and although they try to keep it a secret from their loved ones, eventually the film plays out with a powerful denouement of retribution that will leave you devastated. It’s another cinematic example of how the smallest decisions we make can lead to enormous, life changing consequences.


Firstly, there’s Phil Hoffman, fresh off his Oscar win and making a decidedly powerful statement with this film: he’s an actor not afraid to play roles which are possibly controversial, flawed and against the grain. His portrayal of Andy, the older (and you’d think wiser) brother is spot on, twitchy yet sure of himself….. at least, until everything goes horribly wrong, and he begins to doubt his own family. He doesn’t trust his brother, especially when things get tense. Hoffman brings a reality, a raw fluidity to the role, less cinematic and more realistic, which is a testament to his skill as a performer. Ethan Hawke is particularly good in this film, I usually find him an annoying actor in his mannerisms and style of performance; here, I found his style to suit the role perfectly. He’s not quite as successful as his brother, and in a way, leans on him to provide some support and direction, both financially and emotionally. Hanks inability to see beyond the immediate is frustratingly powerful, as events spiral out of control to the bloody, violent climax. Marisa Tomei, in a role destined to end up scattered across the internet on various nudie-sites, is superb as the Lolita-esque harlot of a wife, who’s having an affair with Hank while talking to Andy about going to Rio. While her role is less conflicted within the main story of the film, she adds a spark and catalyst for the brothers’ worlds to come crashing down.


Albert Finney is delightful to watch as the devastated father, trying to come to grips with the senseless killing of his wife, and the utter oblivion of seeing his confront his own children about it. Finney plays it straight, the glimmer in his eye from Erin Brockovich is absent here, and the film is the better for it. He’s wonderful.


The best thing about Devil, I would have to say, is the raw tension generated by the actions employed by our cast: there’s a palpable sense of hedonistic voyeurism involved here, the intimacy and dialogue sparkling with wit and depth, coupled with appropriately good acting performances add up to one heck of a cinema journey. Lumet isn’t a director whose work I am overly familiar with, I have to admit, although after this, I’m more inclined than ever before to scrounge about the DVD shop for a bit of his back catalog. Taut, moody and at times almost pulpish in style and narrative, Before the Devil Know You’re Dead is a wonderful, sublime adult contemporary thriller, and if you’re in the mood for a bit of brain-stimulation, then this film is one you can take to the bank.


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