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.
Needing extra cash, two brothers conspire to pull off the perfect, victimless crime. No guns, no violence, no problem. But when an accomplice ignores the rules and crosses the line, his actions trigger a series of events in which no one is left unscathed. Written by
What an extraordinary crime thriller!! My wife and I saw this at the Toronto International Film Festival last week and it was far and away the best movie in an exceptionally strong festival. It's already my second favourite film of all-time after DR. STRANGELOVE and I was definitely on an emotional high as I walked home and discussed the film with my wife.
I don't want to spoil the plot because thrillers of this calibre are best enjoyed without preconceptions. A synopsis that I'd feel comfortable sharing is that two brothers, played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, are planning to rob a jewellery store in Westchester, New York. The film bounces back and forth in time over approximately a two week period of time (before, during and after the robbery), and one key scene is repeated at least three times. Ordinarily, that could disrupt the momentum of a film but that never happens during this masterpiece. The excitement, the tension, and even the quality of the acting only seemed to get better as the film progressed. By the end, I was on the edge of my seat breathlessly waiting to see how it would all wrap up. I know that I've used a few clichés in this post, but I literally was on the edge of my seat. I should mention that the non-linear storyline is quite easy to follow. This isn't the sort of movie where you'll overhear audience members asking their friend to explain the plot during the movie.
The acting is absolutely brilliant all-around, and I doubt I would have the same admiration for the film if the casting hadn't been so perfect. A tiny complaint is that Hoffman and Hawke don't look like brothers, but that's a minor quibble that I can easily overlook. Hoffman was at his very best and some of his scenes with Hawke were positively electric. Marisa Tomei (as Hoffman's wife) and Albert Finney (as the father of Hoffman & Hawke) are also very good in supporting roles. Even some cameo performances were so impressive that I can still remember every remark, gesture and facial expression by Brian O'Byrne and Michael Shannon absolute perfection. The robbery scene felt more authentic than any other cinematic robbery scene I've ever watched, and I had the same feeling of authenticity in most scenes, especially the ones with Hoffman. The music helped to build up the tension throughout the movie, often the same notes played over very effectively. I had the music playing in my head the following day, even as I sat through other films. In addition to my minor complaint at the beginning of this paragraph, there was one plot twist that felt a bit unbelievable (major spoiler, so I can't describe the scene). Otherwise, this film is pretty darn close to perfect.
There were about a dozen great films at the festival that I would enjoy watching a second time but BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD stands in a league of its own. As an aside, the director Sidney Lumet spoke before the film and he introduced Marisa Tomei and Ethan Hawke onto the stage. Tomei didn't speak and she acted a bit shy so Lumet asked "Can you believe that someone so beautiful could be so camera-shy?" That comment is quite ironic considering the graphic opening scene!!
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