Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

 


Robin Clifford 
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
Laura Clifford 
Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) needs money. Lots of money. His brother Hank (Ethan Hawke), floundering in making extravagant child support payments, needs it even more. The elder Andy has a foolproof plan to get the dough they both need but “fool” becomes the operative word when things go badly wrong with the scheme in “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.”

Robin:
Robin's review coming soon!

Laura: 

'May you be in heaven a 1/2 an hour...'

Having had great Brazilian vacation sex with trophy wife Gina (Marisa Tomei, "Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School," "Wild Hogs") for the first time in years, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Capote") is determined to live the high life required to keep her.  Problem is, he's already in dangerous debt due to an escalated cocaine habit.  But Andy knows his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke, "Training Day," "Fast Food Nation"), who unbeknownst to him is having an affair with Gina, is in worse financial straights, drowning in child support back payments, so he proposes they team up for a 'victimless' crime for an easy cash-in - robbing their own mother and father's suburban jewelry store - in "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead."

Octogenarian filmmaker Sidney Lumet ("12 Angry Men," "The Verdict") lets out a melodramatic roar with his 45th film, the story of one family's moral maelstrom that leaves the viewer gasping in astonishment without ever once slipping in suspension of disbelief.   The characters, particularly Hoffman's Andy, consistently do the wrong thing, each action increasing their downward spirals, but they also never lose their all too human recognition, even empathy.

Making his film writing debut, playwright Kelly Masterson doesn't so much give us something new as a brilliantly structured way of looking at it and Lumet masterfully uses the shifting time structure to layer audience perception, letting them in on bits of background with every replay of a scene.  The structure is not so much "Rashomon-like" as it is like watching a photo developing with pulse quickening intensity.

At first Hank is downright shocked at his respected older brother's suggestion of robbery, but his desperation allows him to be reeled in even after he is horrified to learn they'll be knocking off their own folks' store.  Thinks go wrong before the deal's even dry, with Andy informing Hank that he cannot be present at the strip mall, where his identity is too well known.  Hank is too jittery to handle such a bold move on his own, though, so enlists bar buddy Bobby (Brian F. O'Byrne, "The New World," "Bug") to pull off the actual heist while he rides getaway (in a ridiculous disguise that makes him look like the mustachioed Casey Affleck in "Ocean's Thirteen").  Things go horrifically wrong on several fronts and the two brothers find themselves on the run from their own unknowing father.

Philip Seymour Hoffman, with his eyebrows satanically sweeping upwards, seems so self assured at film's beginning, we initially see him as a cold hearted manipulator, but as Lumet fills in the blanks, Hoffman is able to show us Andy's evolution as an eldest son whose success is a parental foregone conclusion.  Likewise, Hawke, who completely unravels before the camera, is the babied youngest who has never learned to stand on his own two feet.  His wife (Amy Ryan, so terrific in "Gone Baby Gone") either berates him or triumphs in tricking him (a little game using daddy's girl) and his daughter seems to view him as a non-functioning cash cow.  In the femme fatale role, Tomei's Gina is a blatant opportunist and the actress does little to humanize her.  The great Albert Finney ("Big Fish," "The Bourne Ultimatum") is a stolid patriarch moved to action and Rosemary Harris ("Spider-Man 3") evokes great sympathy with a few quick strokes (and one very intense scene) as his wife Nanette.

Production designer Christopher Nowak has chosen grim, grey, boxy environs that suit the sordid tale and cinematographer Ron Fortunato lights the film through the dim haze of an afternoon bar.  Film Editor Tom Swartwout does nice work matching cuts between the time shifting segues.

Lumet's film starts with a bang, hangs back for malignant guilt to settle, before exploding again in its final third, which had this viewer whispering 'Wow!' over and over again.  "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is a film of astonishing power and one of the best of 2007.


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