Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead Review


With one of the darkest plots of any movie I’ve seen this decade, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” floors you from the first scene to the last. This is really intense and powerful stuff that is extremely well written, directed, and acted.

Andy (Hoffman) and his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) are in desperate need of cash, so they set up the perfect crime: rob their parents’ jewelry store. No one will get hurt and the jewelry is insured – seems like a victimless crime. But Hank can’t go through with it, and he brings a friend aboard. The friend brings a gun, and the incident results in the death of Andy and Hank’s mother (Rosemary Harris). The two of them deal with their consciences and try to avoid arrest, while Andy’s relationship with his father (Albert Finney) and Hank’s relationship with Andy’s wife (Marisa Tomei) complicate the situation even more.

The film is structured in a very different, interesting way. The story is told from three different perspectives – Andy’s, Hank’s, and their father’s. We see the same events, but from all three different points of view, and each time we see a different point of view, we learn something else about a character, event, or relationship. The film would have been great if told in a straightforward fashion, but I definitely think this method elevated the material.

The characters are train wrecks and aren’t relatable whatsoever. Andy is despicable, while Hank is a cowardly little weasel. But Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke give them enough humanity to make sure we are invested in them. Hawke gives one of his best performances in years. He wears all of his emotions on his sleeve, and even more than his brother, he is conflicted about what they should do.

Hoffman gives one of the best performances of the past decade. The actor has established himself as one of the finest working actors today, picking up an Oscar nomination seemingly every year. Andy feels pain for the awful things he does, but instead of making them right, he digs himself deeper. It’s a really complex piece of work, but Hoffman nails it. Take note of the scene between him and Tomei in the car. It’s the best scene in the film.

Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney also give exceptional performances. Tomei (physically and emotionally) bares all. Between “In the Bedroom,” “The Wrestler,” and this, she had a really good past decade as well. Albert Finney is the film’s heart. You really feel bad that his sons are such fuck-ups, but Finney complicates things by hinting at his poor fathering skills toward Andy.

Technically, the film is top-notch. Carter Burwell’s score creates an intense and somber mood. The camerawork relies on close-ups and extreme close-ups to emphasize the intimacy of the situation. And the editing helps peel the layers of the plot back slowly and ensures you don’t get confused by the jumbled storytelling technique.

Director Sidney Lumet has been making films for more than four decades, and I think “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” deserves to be mentioned alongside his other classics, such as “Network,” “12 Angry Men,” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” It’s a personal tale that goes in some pretty twisted directions, but the marvelous acting, sharp writing, and steady direction makes this a film more than worthy of your time and attention.

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