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Two dysfunctional brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) get
tired of competing for who is the bigger f***-up and who Daddy (Albert
Finney) loves more, so they hatch a hair-brained scheme to rob Mommy
and Daddy's jewelry store so that they can clear their debts and start
fresh. Sounds like a great plan except that this is a suspenseful
1970's style melodrama about a heist gone wrong, and boy, do things
really go wrong here for our hapless duo and everyone involved.
Lasciviously concocted by screenwriter Kelly Masterson and classically
executed by director Sidney Lumet, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead"
uses the heist as its McGuffin to delve deep into family drama.
Contrary to popular belief, Sidney Lumet is not dead. At age 83, he has apparently made a deal with the Devil to deliver one last great film. Lumet was at his zenith in the 1970's with films like "Dog Day Afternoon," "Serpico," and one of my favorite films of all time, "Network". He has somehow managed to make a film that bears all the hallmarks of his classics while intertwining some more modern elements (graphic sexuality, violence, and playing with time-frames and POV's) into a crackling, vibrant, lean, mean, and provocative melodrama. One can only hope that some of the modern greats (like Scorsese or Spielberg) who emerged during the same decade Lumet was at the top of his game will have this much chutzpah left when they reach that age.
Lumet is a master at directing people walking through spaces to create tension and develop characters. As the cast waltzes through finely appointed Manhattan offices and apartments his slowly moving camera creates a palpable sense of anxiety as we never know who might be around the next corner or what this person might do in the next room. Also amazing is how Lumet utilizes the multiple POV and shifting time-frame approach. The coherent and classical presentation he uses makes the similarly structured films of wunderkinds Christopher Nolan and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu seem like amateur hour.
Of course, what Lumet is best at is directing amazing ensemble casts and tricking them into acting within an inch of their lives. Philip Seymour Hoffman has never been, and most likely never will be, better than he is here. Albert Finney's quietly searing portrayal of a father betrayed and at the end of his rope is a masterpiece to watch unfold. Ethan Hawke, normally a nondescript pretty boy, is perfect as the emotionally crippled younger brother who has skated by far too long on his charms and looks. The coup-de-grace, however, is the series of scenes between Hoffman and Marisa Tomei, eerily on point as his flighty trophy wife. Lumet runs them through the gamut of emotions that culminate in a scene that is the best of its kind since William Holden taunted Beatrice Straight right into a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in "Network."
The Devil of any great film is in the details, from Albert Finney's tap of his car's trunk that won't close due to a fender bender, to the look Amy Ryan (fresh off her amazing turn in "Gone Baby Gone") gives her ex-husband Ethan Hawke at his mawkish promise to his little girl all three of them knows he won't keep, to the systematic unraveling of a family on the skids, to the dialog begging for cultists to quote it (my favorite line being the hilariously threatening "Do you mind if I call you Chico?") to the excellent Carter Burwell score. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is the film of the year. If something emerges to best it, then we know a few other deals must've been brokered with Old Scratch.
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!!
After a cold sex scene, between Andy and Gina, in South America, we
know that Andy is a payroll manager who finds himself in a hard
economic situation where he badly needs some extra money
discover that he has been stealing from his job and using the money to
his drug habits
He's also attempting to keep up with his wife, who
just might be having an affair
To solve all their problems, he persuades his brothera likable loserto join him in a plan to steal their own parent's small store Their parents are happily married and proprietors of a jewelry store situated in New York's Westchester County Sixty thousand dollars is all they'll need to get their life out of desperation
Three main characters are important in this movie
First the two brothers Each of them is a complex individual, threatened with multiple motivations, and sunk into doubts and disappointments The two are desperate characters, financially and emotionally
Andy is selfish He feels that he has never had the love of his father He is the corrupting influence, turning his brother into an assailant, and his beautiful woman into an adulteress
Hank is a puppet too weak to resist his brother's wishes His ex-wife is one of the reasons he needs money as he owes her hundreds in child support . He longs to regain the confidence he once had with his father
The third character is their weary and deplorable father Charles Hanson (Albert Finney), especially in the haunting climactic scenes
Telling you more about the details could lessen the impact of the film, and therefore the entertainment...
Tomei's performance conveys great depth and emotion even with her look, her touch, her particular move
Lumet's direction is firm, fresh and brutal.
Says Andy: "Nobody gets hurt, everybody wins." Before he says it, we know the opposite is true: Everybody gets hurt, nobody wins. This is a new strand in American movies, or perhaps an old strand brought back at long last. Think "Eastern Promises", "There Will Be Blood", "No Country for Old Men". These movies are dark, serious, extremely well made, and don't care about happy endings. I love them. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" fits the general description, but creates an atmosphere all its own. Kelly Masterson's debut script is as close as a Hollywood movie will ever get to a Greek tragedy. Paying tribute to fellow veteran director Stanley Donen, Sidney Lumet expertly and soberly turns the sombre story into an outstanding, old school character drama. The opening shots, although of an obese accountant doggy-styling his trophy wife, have the look and feel of a Dutch master's painting. By contrast, the drug dealer's condo looks more like a string of Mondrians. Great performances all around. Only Albert Finney's character Charles feels a little over-acted, eyes wide and mouth agape almost all the time. But then he is in trouble deep, deeper than any of the troubles most of us will ever know. For compensation, Marisa Tomei is super hot. But of course you don't need me to tell you that. Why her character Gina would want to be with a guy like Andy, we're never told, but that's okay. Action is character, after all. The unique and magic touch of Carter Burwell's music makes this fine movie a masterpiece. Don't miss it.
Sydney Lumet hasn't had a box office hit in 20 years and yet at 83 has
managed to churn out a tight, well-cast, suspenseful thriller set in
his old stamping ground, New York City. (How he got insurance, let
alone the budget after all those flops, is a mystery also). The story
is a pretty grim one and the characters are not particularly likable
but it held me on the edge of my seat till the final scene.
Two brothers with pressing financial problems conspire to rob a suburban jewelry store owned by their elderly parents. The only victim is going to be the insurance company. The robbery goes awry and two people die. Most of the film is concerned with the aftermath. The action is non-linear and seen from the main character's differing points of view, but it is not difficult to follow. What is not so easy to work out is the back story how did the brothers get into such a mess? There are clues the younger brother being the baby of the family is his fathers' favorite while the older brother seems to be carrying a lot of baggage about his relationship with his father, and vice versa, but that hardly accounts for him becoming a heroin-using murdering embezzler.
As the scheming older brother, a corpulent Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates the film, but he is well supported by Ethan Hawke as his bullied, inadequate younger brother. Albert Finney as their father seems to be in a constant state of rage but then the script calls for that. Marisa Tomei as the older brother's cheating wife at the age of 42 puts in the sexiest performance I've seen in many a year. The film literally starts with a bang, but we are out of that comfort zone pretty quickly.
I don't know the origins of this story by first time scriptwriter Kelly Masterton but I suspect that like Lumet's great 70's film "Dog Day Afternoon" it is based on fact it's too silly to be untrue. Lumet is just about the last of those immensely versatile old-time craftsman studio directors who with immense speed were able to direct just about anything that was put in front of them. Some great films were produced that way as well as some classic turkeys. This isn't a classic of either sort it's a well-crafted piece of downbeat entertainment. It will probably leave you feeling that you were lucky not be a member of a family as dysfunctional as this one, but still wondering as to how they got that way. We do know the parents were happy but we see so little of the mother and hear so little about her it is impossible pick up on her relationship with the boys. (There is also a daughter whose presence seems redundant). Well, like Tolstoy, we have to conclude that "each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I must admit that this is the type of film that I would normally
eschew, but I rented it basically because of the stars. I certainly was
not sorry. In fact, as you see, I rated it five stars. This film is the
perfect combination of sharp directing and superior acting.
Andy and Hank Hanson are brothers who decide to commit the uncouth crime of robbing their parents' jewelry store. The crime goes terribly wrong - thus beginning an examination of the three men in the Hanson family. Through a series of flashbacks, we get to know Charles Hanson and come to an understanding of the strained relationship between father and sons.
Younger brother, Hank is basically a screw-up. He has always had trouble holding a job and pretty much goes in the direction of the wind. Hank is insecure, cowardly, and very much under the influence of his big brother. Ethan Hawke has the character of Hank "nailed to a T" and gives what is probably his best performance thus far. He shows us a man who is basically good-hearted but so influenced by outside forces that he is unable to follow through with any important task.
Andy - on the surface - appears to be a successful businessman, but we soon discover that he is addicted to drugs and has been embezzling from his company to pay for his habit. It is Andy who concocts the scheme to rob his parents' store, and he gets weak-willed Hank to commit the act. Philip Seymour Hoffman - surely one of the finest actors of our time - plays Andy. Hoffman is an actor who has the ability to portray a man who, on the surface, is a charming businessman liked by his acquaintances but a real slime ball underneath. He is absolutely perfect for the part of Andy or it might be said that he, through his superior acting skills, made Andy the perfect part.
Albert Finney plays a father common to his generation. Charles Hanson is not a bad or unfeeling man, but he has a lousy relationship with his sons because he never really understood what was necessary in nurturing a positive bond between his sons and himself. He has always been too quick to criticize and admonish. He always made it clear that he favored his younger son over his older thus causing a wide emotional rift between himself and Andy. As we get to know Charles and Andy, the thought of Andy forming a plan to rob from his father becomes less unbelievable.
On a personal note, I cannot believe how much Charles Hanson reminded me of my own father, and how much Andy and Hank reminded me of my own brother and myself. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons that I enjoyed the film so much as this story of a distant, critical father, a more successful older brother, and a less successful younger brother hit so close to home. Fortunately, my brother and I never came to the state of committing a crime against my parents- guess we were made of sterner and more moral stuff.
This complex of personalities and actions has been expertly put together by director, Sidney Lumet. At eighty-three, he still has the chops to give the audience engrossing characters and edge-of-seat action that hypnotizes. 12 Angry Men was his first film made fifty years prior to Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, but he hasn't lost any bit of his magic touch in showing us characters that will be long remembered.
The events and characters in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead are harsh and unattractive, and this is definitely not a feel-good movie. However, it is two hours of ultimate entertainment which I thoroughly recommend.
I am beginning to see a very consistent pattern form in the identity of
2007's films. If 2004 was the year of the biographies and 2005 was the
year of the political films, 2007 can be identified as a year featuring
a wide plethora of morality tales, films that portray, test, challenge
and question human morality and the motives that drive us to do certain
things. Although this identification is rather broad, I think that
there are a handful of films released this year, such as 3:10 To Yuma,
Eastern Promises, American Gangster, No Country for Old Men and others
that specifically question and study human morals and the motives that
drive us to acts such as violence or treachery. Before the Devil Knows
You're Dead is a deviously stylish morality tale, and quite a dark,
bleak and depressing one at that. And even better is the fact that it
comes from one of the greatest classic directorial forces of our time,
the legendary Sidney Lumet, who many have said has passed his prime but
returns in full force with this viciously rich crime thriller.
It's one of those films whose plots are so thick, that one is very reluctant to go into details. It is a movie that is best enjoyed if entered without any prior knowledge to the events about to unfold, as there are twists and turns. But the thick and richly wrought plot is not at all at the center of this film; the true focus is, as I mentioned, the morality tale; the motives that drive these two men to the actions they do in the film. In a plot structured like a combination between the filmographies of both The Coen Brothers (namely Blood Simple and Fargo) and Quentin Tarantino, we see two men driven under various shady circumstances to pull off a fairly simple crime that goes incredibly, ridiculously wrong, and reciprocates with full force and inevitable tragedy. And to make it all the more interesting, the film is told in a fragmented chronology that keeps back tracking and showing a series of events following a different character every time and always ending up where it left off the last time. Sizzling, sharp, thick and precariously depressing, Kelly Masterson's screenplay is surprisingly poignant and well rounded, in particular because it is a debut screenplay.
But the film has much more going for it than just it's delectably sinister and quite depressing plot. First and foremost, the picture looks and feels outstandingly well. Sidney Lumet has, throughout his career, consistently employed an interesting style of cinematography and lighting: naturalistic and yet stylish at the same time. The film carries with it a distinctive air of style and class, with wonderful natural lighting that just looks really great. Editing is top-notch; combining the sizzling drama-thriller aspect with great long takes that really take their time to portray the action accordingly. And vivid, dynamic camera angles and movements further add to the style. The film is also backed by a fantastically succulent musical score by Carter Burwell.
The screenplay does its part, and of course Lumet does his part, but at the film's dramatic center are three masterful actors who deliver incredibly good performances. First and foremost, there are the two leads. Leading the pack is Philip Seymour Hoffman, who has always been an excellent actor but has stumbled upon newfound leading-man status after his unnaturally fantastic Oscar-winning performance in Capote. His turn in this film is fascinating: severely flawed, broken, manic. Hoffman has some truly intense scenes in the film that really allow his full dramatic fury to come out, and not just his subtlety and wit. At his side is Ethan Hawke, who has delivered some fantastic performances in many films that are almost always overshadowed by greater, grander actors. Here, he bounces off Hoffman and complements him so incredibly well; in all, the dynamic acting between the two of them is just so utterly fantastic and convincing, the audience very quickly loses itself in the characters and forgets that it's watching actors. And then there's Albert Finney. Such a supple, opulent supporting role like the one he has requires a veteran professional and here Finney delivers his finest performance in many years as the tragically obsessed father to the two brothers who get caught up in the crime. I love how the dynamics between the three of them play out. I love how Hoffman is clearly the dominant brother and shamelessly picks on his younger brother even now that they're middle-aged men; and yet despite this, it is clear how Finney's father favours Hawke's younger, weaker brother. Also on the topic of the cast, the two supporting female characters wives of the brothers also feature fantastic performances from Amy Ryan and Marisa Tomei, whose looks just get better and better as the years go by.
This film isn't revolutionary. These themes and this style have already been explored by the likes of The Coen Brothers, and it's very easy to imagine them directing this film. But for a film that treads familiar ground, it simply excels. Lumet employs his own immense directorial talent and employs his unique and very subtle sense of irony and style to Masterson's brilliantly vivid, intense, and morbidly depressing first-time screenplay. The lead performances are incredibly intense and the film features absolutely fantastic turns from Hoffman, Hawke and Finney; but the truly greatest wonder of the film is that three years after he won a Lifetime Achievement Oscar, much revered as the ultimate sign of retirement in the film business, Sidney Lumet proves that he still has the immense talent to deliver a truly wonderful, resonant, intense piece of cinema reminiscent of his golden years.
Director Sidney Lumet has made some masterpieces,like Network,Dog Day Afternoon or Serpico.But,he was not having too much luck on his most recent works.Gloria (1999) was pathetic and Find Me Guilty was an interesting,but failed experiment.Now,Lumet brings his best film in decades and,by my point of view,a true masterpiece:Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.I think this film is like a rebirth for Lumet.This movie has an excellent story which,deeply,has many layers.Also,I think the ending of the movie is perfect.The performances are brilliant.Philip Seymour Hoffman brings,as usual,a magnificent performance and he's,no doubt,one of the best actors of our days.Ethan Hawke is also an excellent actor but he's underrated by my point of view.His performance in here is great.The rest of the cast is also excellent(specially,the great Albert Finney) but these two actors bring monumental performances which were sadly ignored by the pathetic Oscars.The film has a good level of intensity,in part thanks to the performances and,in part,thanks to the brilliant screenplay.Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a real masterpiece with perfect direction,a great screenplay and excellent performances.We need more movies like this.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The full title of this film is 'May you be in heaven a half hour before
the devil knows you're dead', a rewording of the old Irish toast 'May
you have food and raiment, a soft pillow for your head; may you be 40
years in heaven, before the devil knows you're dead.' First time
screenwriter Kelly Masterson (with some modifications by director
Sidney Lumet) has concocted a melodrama that explores just how
fragmented a family can become when external forces drive the members
to unthinkable extremes. In this film the viewer is allowed to witness
the gradual but nearly complete implosion of a family by a much used
but, here, very sensible manipulation of the flashback/flash forward
technique of storytelling. By repeatedly offering the differing
vantages of each of the characters about the central incidents that
drive this rather harrowing tale, we see all the motivations of the
players in this case of a robbery gone very wrong.
Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a wealthy executive, married to an emotionally needy Gina (Marisa Tomei), and addicted to an expensive drug habit. His life is beginning to crumble and he needs money. Andy's ne're-do well younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a life in ruins - he is divorced from his shrewish wife Martha (Amy Ryan), is behind in alimony and child support, and has borrowed all he can from his friends, and he needs money. Andy proposes a low-key robbery of a small Mall mom-and-pop jewelry store that promises safe, quick cash for both. The glitch is that the jewelry story belongs to the men's parents - Charles (Albert Finney) and Nanette (Rosemary Harris). Andy advances Hank some cash and wrangles an agreement that Hank will do the actual robbery, but though Hank agrees to the 'fail-safe' plan, he hires a friend to take on the actual job while Hank plans to be the driver of the getaway car. The robbery is horribly botched when Nanette, filing in for the regular clerk, shoots the robber and is herself shot in the mess. The disaster unveils many secrets about the fragile relationships of the family and when Nanette dies, Charles and Andy and Hank (and their respective partners) are driven to disastrous ends with surprises at every turn.
Each of the actors in this strong but emotionally acrid film gives superb performances, and while we have come to expect that from Hoffman, Hawke, Tomei, Finney, Ryan, and Harris, it is the wise hand of direction from Sidney Lumet that make this film so unforgettably powerful. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is a film that allows some bravura performances that demand our respect, a film that reminds us how fragile many families can be. Grady Harp
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sidney Lumet knows the wages of sin. Dog Day Afternoon was a classic of
the heist that went wrong with a performance by Al Pacino that went
right. His newest crime in the city is Before the Devil Knows You're
Dead, from an Irish toast, "May you be in heaven half an hour before
the devil knows you're dead." The brothers who rob their parents'
Westchester jewelry store, Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and
Hank (Ethan Hawke) will surely be having a dialogue with the Hot One
when their lives are through, and they have suffered through the Lumet
circle of Hell-on-earth reserved for those not talented enough to avoid
Nemesis even in this life.
Lumet quietly builds the cascade of troubles from a couple of simple mistakes in the crime's execution. Each moment is fraught with punishing possibilities, some just dumb luck, others straight out of existential responsibility. But each of those moments is bearable because Lumet has ascribed the fault to the right places. We may squirm at each turn of bad luck, but we are confident the forces of righteousness will prevail.
Like Orson Welles, Lumet isn't much interested in linear narrative as he cuts in and out of the four days before the heist and the week after. That non-linear presentation allows the audience to verify the early character-consistency estimates now played out at random times.
Befitting Lumet's seminal study of directing, Making Movies (1995), the shots are composed to show the growing alienation of the brothers from their father and each other. For example, a long shot of the two brothers assessing the damage has them placed like bookends, far apart but linked by the fate they are working out at that moment.
Their Greek tragic-like lives are exemplified before the robbery in the petty adultery and embezzling that already corrode all their relationships. Andy's Wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei), who is sleeping with Hank, fulfills the requirements of a Siren who may have no idea how dangerous she is.
The Devil will have his due.
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