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Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

DVD Cover (THINKFilm)
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6.3
 / 10
5 votes
Genres:
Crime, Crime Thriller, Family Drama
Director:
Sidney Lumet Sidney Lumet
Starring:
Philip Seymour Hoffman Philip Seymour Hoffman
Ethan Hawke Ethan Hawke
Albert Finney Albert Finney
Marisa Tomei Marisa Tomei
Aleksa Palladino Aleksa Palladino
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 26, 2007
When you start to think about the greatest living directors, the name Sidney Lumet is probably close to the top if not there outright. He's been making masterpieces for over forty-years now and at 83-years-young he shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. His distinguished resume includes the films: "12 Angry Men", "Long Day's Journey Into Night", "Fail Safe", "Bye Bye Braverman", "The Anderson Tapes", "Serpico", "Murder On the Orient Express", "Dog Day Afternoon", "Network", "Equus", "Deathtrap", "The Verdict" and "Running On Empty". Phew. That's quite a bit of amazing cinematic achievements. His latest film, the thriller "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is his best film in two decades and possibly one of his greatest achievements, especially when you consider his age and the amount of time between successes. Lumet has gone back to the style of film making that most closely resembles "Dog Day Afternoon". He's went back down the indie road and turned up an honest, frightening and insane portrayal of desperate people and the things they'll do for themselves. It's absolutely one of the best films of the year.

Told out of sequence, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as brothers Andy and Hank Hanson. Andy is the payroll manager at a high account firm and has been sifting money from the company for a while now. Hank is a maintenance man who owes his ex-wife (Amy Ryan) a lot of child support and wants to provide better for his daughter, whom you can tell he really loves. Andy hatches a scheme for the two of them to rob a jewelry store owned by their own parents (Albert Finney & Rosemary Harris). Andy figures his folks will get the insurance money and they'll get the jewels and everything will be fine. When Hank takes a long a new guy (Brian F. O'Byrne), things go wrong and Hank's mother ends up in a coma at the hospital from a gunshot wound. This is when Albert Finney's character gets more into the picture, as the grieving husband who will do anything to find anyone else responsible for the violence against his wife. As Andy and Hank's money problems mount, and as Andy learns a painful secret about his wife (Maria Tomei), the film winds down into a terrifying climax that is one of the finest constructed ending sequences I have seen this year, or any year, in film.

There are some people who might find this film boring. These people are probably going to have a difficult time with meandering scenes that show Hoffman's character visiting his drug dealer and Hawke's character spending time in the local bar. For me, these were essential because they helped us understand the desperation of these characters. We never really find out why Hoffman needs the money so badly. Is he going to pay off his job? Is he going to buy more drugs? Is he going to skip town and go back to Rio? Good arguments could be made for any scenario. I love how Lumet uses the out of sequence time table to establish a real tension throughout the film, giving us key plot points when he thinks we need them. I love it when I can feel that a director is in total control of the film, and even more so when that director is as capable as Lumet. The music by Carter Burwell also felt like a throwback to some of Lumet's older films, like "Dog Day Afternoon". If there was one gripe I had with the film, it was that some of the cinematography seemed a little staged, with actors in positions you just wouldn't expect to find them in. It felt like maybe they were trying to make the shots look too technically well done, and that made them look a little staged.

As for the performances, I don't know what to say. Once again, Philip Seymour Hoffman has turned in the best male performance of the year as Andy Hanson. Hoffman has a couple of scenes in this film that are pure raw acting - some of the best I've ever seen. Take a look at the scene between he and Tomei in the car or the scene with his brother towards the end. Ethan Hawke also gives the best performance of his career as Hank Hanson, really playing the character the way it needs to be played and evoking this innocence and childishness that makes him far more sympathetic than the Hoffman character. Also incredible is Albert Finney, absolutely deserving of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role here. Just the scene at the end of the film between he and Hoffman. Just watch the look on his face. Finney delivers yet another phenomenal performance, and like Lumet, does so this late into his career. And who says Marisa Tomei winning the Oscar was a fluke? With "My Cousin Vinny" and "In the Bedroom", she proved herself to be an amazing talent and she continues that here. The girls just knows how to act. Plain and simple. Brian F. O'Byrne and Michael Shannon also provide nice supporting roles, as does the great Amy Ryan.

This film was just made to be appreciated, and boy did I ever. Sidney Lumet is back at the top of his game and firing on all cylinders. Philip Seymour Hoffman simply cannot be stopped, and with each new performance, I find more and more reasons to consider him the greatest American actor working in the business today. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" deals with a lot of dark and serious subject matter that doesn't come easy. It deals with family in a way you've probably never seen before and it doesn't paint a pretty picture all the time. It shows how the desire for money can make people do horrible things, even to those closest to them. At the end of the film, we don't really know who's to blame and who's innocent. We don't necessarily hate all the characters we're supposed to hate, and we don't necessarily love all the characters we're supposed to love. I guess what makes the film work so well is that it shows that everyone is flawed. Everyone in the Hanson family has sinned some way or the other. That's what makes this a great motion picture.

9.5/10.
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waxtadpole3657 #1: waxtadpole3657 - added 12/11/2007, 12:00 AM
WOW. I just watched the trailer for this. It looks absolutely fantastic. I may catch it next weekend. It's playing about 45 minutes from where I live.
johannesfaust #2: johannesfaust - added 02/15/2010, 10:19 AM
a crime that goes wrong...how fun is it? 4/10
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