Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Reviews
These men, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke), are brothers, but their resemblance has less to do with their set of shared genetics and more to do with the way they're experiencing severely punishing midlife crises. While Andy's recently married his mistress, Gina (Marisa Tomei), marital bliss is hardly a given, and the stresses of his corporate job, paired with a crippling cocaine habit, have left him both pressed for happiness and money. Hank, sinuously having an affair with Gina on the side, lived an idyllic a few years ago, but he's divorced now, and his wife (Amy Ryan) is hateful and his teenage daughter is resentful.
Because they're strapped for cash and are generally overcome with the desire to break out of the prison of their lives, Andy despicably ropes Hank into a plan bound to fail and bound to break the already creaky ground they're currently standing on. The plan, idiotic and unsightly, involves the two robbing a jewelry store run by their parents (Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris). They know the structure of the outfit, anyway, and no one'd suspect the children of businesspeople to stoop to thievery to victimize their own kin.
But, alas, unwise plotting and sad incompetence on the part of Andy and Hank designates the conspiracy as a failed criminal stab before it even begins. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is not a standard heist thriller but a psychological drama that just so happens to feature a heist and a couple of tactile scenes of suspense. Unraveling non-linearly, with its climax executed early on and its developing of characters separated and characterized by first person focus, the film's all-seeing, free-wheeling design, reminiscent of "Pulp Fiction" or "The Killing," increases its depth.
Since we see several aspects of the movie's characters at once, watching them at their most comprehensively affected immediately, we're better able to understand what drives these people even before the first act commences. And that empathy, drawn from Kelly Masterson's outstanding screenplay, is the very thing that signifies that the putrid characters at the center of "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" are so crooked as a result of slow-in-the-making hopelessness, not out of inherent, two-dimensional cinematic deviousness.
So we manage to root for them, if only because their pathetic essences elicit a strange sort of sympathy. Hoffman, as passionately morose as ever, is superb as a man living as the shell of his formerly confident, powerful self, with Hawke convincing us that he really is the pitiful loser that is Hank. Best of all, though, is Finney, whose supporting performance turns out to be the most heartbreaking, most poignant thing about the film.
Remarkably, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is the swan song of Sidney Lumet ("Network," "Running On Empty"), among Hollywood's most dependable and influential artists. While eighty-three during production and a recent recipient of the Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award, the film proves to be one of his most interesting efforts. And what an exciting thing that is: like Luis Buñuel, the Spanish auteur who manufactured some of his best features in his later years, Lumet's the kind of virtuoso to continue challenging himself despite having a reputation respectable enough to allow for retirement. I guess a true great never loses their mojo, and Lumet is unquestionably one of them.
The best aspect of this movie is its quality acting. PSH was always reliable when it came to delivering a well-developed character, and this movie is no exception. Marisa Tomei also gives a strong performance and had great chemistry with both Hoffman and Hawke, who was ok. I also really enjoyed the story and it's twists and turns along the way. Lumet did a great job pacing this movie to keep things interesting throughout; I never felt bored with the 2-hour runtime.
The one big negative I have with this movie is the non-sequential execution. I'm not opposed to movies that aren't presented in chronological order, but only when it's used in an effective way to reveal plot information. The first half of this movie leading up to the events of the robbery is great because the sequencing works well with the information being presented. It's the second half of the movie after the robbery when the sequencing feels more like a gimmick than an effective tool.
Overall, this is an enjoyable crime film. If you like PSH, you'll really appreciate his performance here. It's not a masterpiece, but Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is worth a watch.
Final grade: B
Both siblings have money problems and their neat solution is to plan a heist on a 'mom and pop' jewelry store. The sting is that the mom and pop in question are their own. In the grand tradition of heist movies, their plan unravels quickly because clearly no one knows what their really doing. Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) subcontracts the job of the heist itself to Hank (Ethan Hawke) who, unable to face it, subcontracts it to an even more inept work colleague. The results are predictably violent and chaotic. With the burden waving on their consciences, the two embark on an ever more desperate endeavor.
A well-made suspense thriller, a devastating story with exceptional direction and first-rate acting. No question about it. But at the end of the day, the severity of the impact of this tragic conclusion is not nearly as poignant due to an inadequate attachment to the brothers. Two protagonists who are self-centered individuals who are going to get theirs no matter the cost or consequence. Ethan Hawke deftly sketches Hank, the nearest thing to a likable character, as a terrified idiot who might be lovable, if it wasn't for his willingness to be talked into armed robbery.
Screenwriter Kelly Masterson structures the story with a series of flashbacks, which follow individual characters in the days leading up to the robbery. Each segment advances the action a little past the crime, and then, once the audience has caught up with the colorful backstory, he discards the flashbacks and pushes the narrative forward.
This is not classic Sidney Lumet, but it's ample evidence that after more than 40 years working in this business, the director is still capable of crafting an entertaining and thought provoking motion picture.