Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007) Poster

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Definitely Not a Feel-Good Movie
Neil Turner7 November 2008
Warning: 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.
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More than the sum of its parts
richard_sleboe14 April 2008
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.
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In a back-and-forth style, Sydney Lumet's psychological crime thriller is good to watch…
Nazi_Fighter_David3 May 2008
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… We also 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 brother—a likable loser—to 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.
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A Family Implosion
gradyharp20 April 2008
Warning: 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
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Do you Mind if I Call you Chico?
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.
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Lumet does Tolstoy
Philby-323 March 2008
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".
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An Underrated Masterpiece That Sticks With You
Mace31 October 2016
As a last film for a truly legendary director, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead can only be described as a haunting, underrated masterpiece that any viewer will not soon forget.

The film consists of an all-star cast, including the likes of the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney. Even Michael Shannon shares a brief, but memorable, bit of run time. The casting was excellent all around and there were no characters that felt out of place or unnecessary to the story. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke specifically were the best either of them have ever been. The solid script and carefully written dialogue shared between the two main characters delivers some of the film's most riveting moments. And the "car scene" is one of Hoffman's most memorable on-screen moments. Those of you who have seen the film will know what I am referring to and those unaware are in for a treat.

The story, while simple and admittedly not too original, manages to effectively show the characters' descent into violence and madness while jumping to before and after the event in which the movie revolves around. While sometimes the movie holds our hand a little too much with the story telling, I appreciated the fact that this movie wanted us to never be confused or lost within the time-jumping narrative. I was always aware of where our characters were and what point of the story I was witnessing.

Now I have seen many comparisons between this film and the masterpiece known as Fargo, and while it shares the same theme of "simple crime gone horribly wrong" Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is not a darkly comedic venture. In fact, this movie is rarely anything but somber and hopeless. This is not a bad thing though as it seems that this was the director's intent. Delivering a powerful message through spurts of violence and intensity while never straying from the realm of reality within the movie. The violence and thrills are handled very well and are, at times, extremely intense.

Now with all that said, there is only one thing that stopped the movie from being perfect and that is the ending. Normally when following characters throughout a movie we like to see how their story ends. It is common in all basic story telling. The importance of this cannot be stressed enough, especially if we are following a certain character throughout the entire film. Viewers want to know what happened to the character they have been following for the past two hours, but this movie denies you of that. It leaves the fate of the character out of view, and while that works for some movies, I sadly don't think it was the right choice here. Seeing all the things that this character has gone through and leaving it unfinished before the movie is over feels incredibly abrupt and doesn't fit with the rest of the movie.

Despite this issue, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is a masterpiece from a truly talented director. A tight written script brought together by superb acting and thrills, this is definitely a movie you should make time for.
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Another Sidney Lumet Masterpiece
Greg Magne18 September 2007
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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Treads familiar ground but does it with grand, depressing intensity and fantastic style
Monotreme0223 December 2007
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.
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Lumet brings another masterpiece
Argemaluco10 April 2008
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.
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The Devil will have his due.
jdesando11 November 2007
Warning: 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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So much talent gone to waste
Craig McPherson10 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Sidney Lumet is one of those name directors who, when critics find his name associated with a film, tend to genuflect in reverence. As such, it's no great surprise to see the outpouring of praise given to Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (it scored an 88% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes), however viewing it left me feeling as empty as a Biafran famine victim.

With an impressive cast comprised of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei, coupled with Lumet's directorial prowess and a smart story by Kelly Masterson, one could be forgiven for thinking things would be a slam-dunk, but they aren't.

Telling the story of two brothers (Hoffman and Hawke), each with their own set of financial troubles, who opt to rob their parent's jewelry store only to have the heist go south on them, "Dead" strikes an ambitious if well-worn tack of jumping back in forth in time akin to the TV show Lost, showing the evolution, execution and aftermath of the crime from various stages and perspectives. There's much that's interesting and compelling here, except that at the end of the journey I found myself detached from the characters and thinking that more might have been accomplished if a more conventional sequencing of the narrative had been chosen, instead of the bouncing to the various characters points of view.

This isn't to say that there aren't some terrific performances going on here. Finney, in his 70th decade, is still a powerful screen presence, and Hoffman is an unquestionable talent portraying the heroin-addicted corporate financial wonk Charles Hanson to perfection. In fact, I can't find a single flaw with the performances in this picture. Even Tomei – who, at age 43, has a body I would crawl a mile over broken glass for, and flaunts it in the raw copiously – is compellingly believable as the torn mistress boinking both Hanson brothers (Hoffman and Hawke) and who is emotionally split between the two.

The problem is that for all the acting, directorial and cinematic firepower behind this movie, it never once sucked me in emotionally or believably. Many of the plot's twists are telegraphed and easily foreseen, right from the very beginning. With all the surprise removed from the journey, it becomes akin to little more than an exercise in watching a bunch of veterans from an acting studio go through their lines.

Such a waste.
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A multi-perspective heist movie that turns into so much more…
Varun B.26 January 2009
BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD starts off promisingly, setting up a simple heist that goes awry, told from varying perspectives (in RASHOMON style). At around the hour mark, Sidney Lumet transforms this film into something that is so much more than the sum of its parts; it eventually morphs into a multi-faceted family drama, exploring the full realm of human emotions/relations, as the story comes to its chilling climax.

As is the case with Lumet, he manages to coax exceptional performances out of his star-studded cast, without any notion of over-acting or hyperbole. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his best roles, is a complex, mysterious, and interesting character, and oftentimes dwarfs Ethan Hawke, who plays his brother, Hank. That's not to say that Hawke is not bad; in fact he is quite above adequate, in a troubled role that suits his style. Marisa Tomei is excellent for her relatively short appearance (the fact that she bares her flesh adds to this). Albert Finney's character (Andy and Hank's father) is the most intriguing, and in my opinion, he deserved a bit more screen-time. Amy Ryan also performs her job adequately.

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD is not an exceptional movie, but it proves that Lumet is still near the top of his game at the (apparent) twilight of an illustrious career. Many of his characteristics and trademarks appear here, not least of which involves the use of his characters. Infused with a killer script (no pun intended), smart dialogue and pacing, and a decent score, BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD is a must-see. A truly underrated gem. 8/10. 3 stars (out of 4). Should just enter my Top 250 at 248. Highly recommended.
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The world is an evil place Charlie. Some of us make money off that and others get destroyed.
Spikeopath17 June 2012
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is directed by Sidney Lumet and written by Kelly Masterson. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris and Amy Ryan. Music is scored by Carter Burwell and cinematography by Ron Fortunato.

Two brothers with differing financial problems plan to rob their parents' jewellery store. But when all does not go to plan and tragedy strikes, it sends them, and those close to them, into a world of fear, shame and violence.....

It opens with a raunchy sex scene, man and wife in the throes of committed passion, for these brief moments there is pleasure. Once over, though, it proves to be a false dawn, the last time anyone on screen will taste pleasure in Lumet's biting morality tale. From here on in the film unfolds in a dizzying array of multi-perspectives and over lapping of narrative structure, a three pronged assault on the senses as a family implodes in a haze of greed, lies and inadequacies. A botched robbery underpins the plotting, the aftermath of which is what is most cutting, we zip around learning the wherewithal and whys of the key players, learning exactly what we need to know to fully immerse in this bleak world. This is a world populated by love cheats, drug abuse, embezzling, bad parenting and blackmail, a world where the brothers Hanson (Hoffman & Hawke) now dwell, either ill equipped (Hawke's Hank) or stuck between idiocy and smug evil (Hoffman's Andy). Their folly, their greed, impacting with a juddering severity on the family circle.

My life, it doesn't add up. Nothing connects to anything else. I'm not the sum of my parts. All my parts don't add up to

It would be Lumet's last film (he passed away in 2011), thankfully it is a fitting final offering from the talented Philadelphian. He's aided considerably, mind, by a razor sharp script from debut screenplay writer Masterton. It's full of nastiness and tension, but still observational as a family tragedy, with major bonus' being that it never resorts to stereotypes or cops out come the crushing denouement. Where Lumet excels is in drawing near faultless performances from his cast. Youthful and downtrodden haplessness portrayed by Hawke, Hoffman's powerhouse manipulator with emotional issues, Tomei proving that over 40 is still sexy while dialling into a very touching performance. Finney, a cracker-jack of grief from the wily old fox, Ryan's hard edged ex-wife and Michael Shannon strolling into the picture late in the day exuding notable menace. All splendidly guided by the great director who asks them to portray characters convincing in going deeper for motivations and means.

Bleak, brutal and near brilliant across the board. 9/10
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The first movie rated above 7.0 on IMDb I did not like.
ragnarokthered13 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When I go out to the video store to rent a flick I usually trust IMDb's views on a film and, until this one, had never seen a flick rated 7.0 or above on the site I did not enjoy.

Sidney Lumet, a legendary director of some of the best films of the 20th century, really misstepped here by making one of the biggest mistakes a filmmaker can: filling a film's cast with thoroughly unlikeable characters with no real redeeming qualities whatsoever.

I like films with flawed characters, but no matter how dark someone's personality is we all have a bit of light in there too, we're all shades of gray with some darker or brighter than others. Mr. Lumet crossed this line by filling this movie with totally unsympathetic and almost masochistic pitch-black characters.

Ethan Hawke's Hank is a 30-something whining, immature, irresponsible man-child divorced from a marriage with a wife that hates him and a daughter who thinks he's a loser, which he very much is. His indecisiveness and willingness to let others do the dirty work for him because he's too cowardly to do it himself leads directly to their bank robbery plan falling apart and mother getting killed. By the time he stands up to his older brother at the end of the film, it's more pathetic than uplifting. Ethan Hawke plays his character well, but isn't given much to work with as he is portrayed as someone with a boot perpetually stamped on their face and he doesn't' particularly care that it's there.

Speaking of which his character's wife is equally as bad. Just about every single shot of the film she's in is her verbally berating him for rent and child support money and further grinding in his already non-existent self-esteem with insults. Seriously, that's just about all the character does. Her harpy-like behavior borders on malevolent.

Albert Finney plays their father Charles, and while Mr. Finney has been a great actor for many decades, he spends about 90% of this film with the same mouth open half-grimace on his face like he's suffering from the world's worst bout of constipation. For someone who's been an actor as long as Mr. Finney, you think he'd be more apt at emoting. Even though he doesn't show it much, his character is supposedly grief stricken and anger-filled. And when he smothers Andy at the film's conclusion it's akin to Dr. Frankenstein putting the monster he helped create out of it's own misery.

Marisa Tomei isn't given much to do with her character. Stuck in an unhappy marriage with Andy and having an affair with his brother for some unfathomable reason. When Andy's world begins to spiral out of control she logically jumps ship, but it really doesn't make her any less selfish or self-serving than any other character in the film, but probably the one with the most common sense at least.

And finally we come to Andy, played by the always good Philip Seymour Hoffman, is the only reason I rated this film a 3 instead of a 1. His performance of the heroin-addicted, embezzling financial executive who's "perfect crime" of robbing his parent's insured jewelry store goes awry is mesmerizing. His descent from calm master planner of a flawed scheme to unstable, deranged homicidal maniac is believable and tragic. Hoffman's character ends up being the film's chief villain, but it's hard to root against him given the alternatives are an emotionally castrated little brother and a father who's self-admitted poor early parenting led to his son's eventual psychosis and indirect, unintentional murder of his mother.

Ultimately this film is really only worth watching for PSH's great performance and it's family train wreck nature. Just don't expect there to be any characters worth cheering for, because there really aren't.
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A Diabolical Crime & Its Unintended Consequences
seymourblack-13 February 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Kelly Masterson's first screenplay describes the circumstances that lead two brothers into carrying out a particularly diabolical crime and then provides a harrowing account of its unintended consequences. By making the nature of the crime unusual and keeping the spotlight on its flawed characters, Masterson also makes his story less predictable than most "heist gone wrong" thrillers and increases the dramatic impact of the crime's tragic repercussions.

Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour-Hoffman), a payroll executive who works for a real estate company, maintains an outward appearance of having everything under control but is, in fact, in a state of deep despair. With a dysfunctional marriage, an expensive drug habit and debts that he's tried to service by embezzling money from his employers, he dreams of escaping to live in Brazil. This isn't possible in his current circumstances and to make matters worse, an audit being carried out at his workplace is soon guaranteed to uncover the extent to which he's been cooking the books. The only way he can think of to get out of his predicament involves robbing a jewellery store and in order to do this, he needs the assistance of his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke).

Hank, who works at the same company as Andy, is also in a state of desperation for different reasons. He's divorced and deeply in debt because his child support payments and contributions to his daughter's education have left him with virtually nothing to live on. Andy tells Hank that what he's planned is the perfect crime because the jewellery store is a relatively soft target which will only be staffed by a single employee early on a Saturday morning and it's also a victim-less crime because, to his certain knowledge, the store is well insured and so the proprietors won't suffer any financial losses. Furthermore, as no guns would be needed for this kind of caper, no-one should get hurt. Hank, who's a more anxious person than his brother, is jittery as he listens to the plan and his natural reluctance to get involved gets stronger when Andy discloses that the store he's got in mind to rob, is their parents' business which is located in a Westchester shopping mall.

Hank is persuaded to go ahead with the robbery (which he's supposed to carry out on his own) but not having the stomach for the job, hires a local thug to help him. For a variety of reasons, the heist goes horribly wrong resulting in a fatality and the brothers failing to profit financially. There are also, however, other consequences that soon prove to be even more devastating.

Masterson's skilfully-written work benefits enormously from Sidney Lumet's decision to unfold the story through a series of flashbacks, flash-forwards and actions being shown from multiple viewpoints. Moreover, by utilising this method, the legendary director brings out considerably more substance in terms of the characters and their motivations in a way that's not only entertaining to watch but also cleverly avoids slowing down the action.

The acting performances in this movie are exceptional with the entire cast obviously having a full understanding of the characters involved. Inevitably though, its Philip Seymour-Hoffman and Ethan Hawke whose contributions remain the most memorable, primarily because of the importance of their characters but also because of the subtlety with which they're portrayed. Albert Finney and Michael Shannon are also electrifying in their important supporting roles.
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Top notch
kosmasp7 August 2008
Sydney Lumet, although one of the oldest active directors, still got game! A few years ago he shot "Find me guilty", a proof to everyone that Vin Diesel can actually act, if he gets the opportunity and the right director. If he had retired after this movie (a true masterpiece in my eyes), no one could have blamed him. But he's still going strong, his next movie already announced for 2009.

But let's stay with this movie right here. The cast list is incredible, their performance top notch. The little nuances in their performances, the "real" dialogue and/or situations that evolve throughout the movie are just amazing. The (time) structure of the movie, that keeps your toes the whole time, blending time-lines so seamlessly, that the editing seems natural/flawless. The story is heightened by that, although even in a "normal" time structure, it would've been at least a good movie (Drama/Thriller). I can only highly recommend it, the rest is up to you! :o)
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Plot holes and other NYC devices
robogil-126 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Let me say first off that the performances by Hawke, Hoffmann and Tomei were excellent. Secondly, this could have been a 90 minute movie and lastly severe plot holes exist in a pretty good story.

That being said, the only way to elaborate on the movie length and plot holes is to ---spoil--- the movie.

OK, first off the movie length. Lumet's flashback device, which I normally liked in movies like "Memento", is not necessary here. In fact, it actually added 30 minutes to the movie by constantly reverting to scenes that we had already scene and showing them from the view point of other characters. This style is very reminiscent of the film "Go", which I liked very much, by the way. A linear structure would have worked quite well here and I think would have told the story a little better and in 90 minutes. Usually, a flashback is used to show us something that the we don't know at a later point of the movie, because letting us know it at an earlier point would give us too much information about a character or an event. In this movie there is no information in the form of a flashback that is given to the audience, which would fail in a linear style of storytelling. As a matter of fact, showing us the jewelry store being robbed and the two people being killed would have been better if it was shown in chronological order as opposed to the second scene in the movie. Alright, you might say, the fact that it was the brother's mother would have been revealed. OK, fine, just get rid of the scene about the father going to the DMV and the mother having to open up the store. The father would show up to the store and say "my wife works here" and the audience would still have thought, "That poor man's wife...oh wait, it's Andy's mom." Now for plot holes. OK. If there's a guy that's been shot and he's got a gun and the bullets match the ones that are in my wife's chest and he's laying at the scene of the crime, my guess is that's the guy who shot my wife. Now, why is the husband of the deceased bothering the cops to find the killer. I would think that was the guy. So, we go on a journey to find the "real" killer. Much like OJ did with Nicole Simpson's killer. OK, granted, the husband was 100% correct in thinking he was not the only one involved, but in reality, I think most grieving husbands would have stopped right there. OK, next plot hole. So, the father goes to a jewelry store to the one crooked diamond dealer on 47th street and asks him if the guy knew anything about his dead wife's murder. So, the audience is to believe that the killer was going to go to this one guy and pawn all of his wears from the heist. Oh, and Andy's going to leave his card to incriminate himself. So, if the dealer decides to call the police he can say I didn't get a good look at him, but here's his card. Again, the father was dead on, but come on. That's a bit of a stretch. Also, he's going to ram his car into a police car (at the police station) and no one is going to arrest him. There are other minor plot holes (like the safe being open at the transvestite drug dealers. "How convenient" - ala the Church Lady) Great performances, but a script full of holes. I think if they would have filled those holes and told a linear story it would have been better. P.S. I have heard that a user has tried to put holes in my criticism by stating that Finney is looking for the accomplice because no getaway car was found. This is logical, however not enough to warrant an all out search for an accomplice. Many crimes have been committed or have been attempted to be committed by one person. In my opinion, Finney's character would be more focused on the burglar that was killed and getting the closure a grieving husband would need from finding him dead on the floor. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills! (Will Ferrell - Zoolander)
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Lumet scores a big one again with a work of melodrama, at its best on par with Greek tragedy
MisterWhiplash10 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Tarantino once remarked on a melodrama from the 1930s called Backstreet that "tragedy is like another character" in the film. The same could be said- and not withstanding bringing up Tarantino- for Sidney Lumet's best work in years, a melodrama where character is of the utmost concern not simply because of what's at stake with the cast involved. Kelly Masterson doesn't have a masterpiece of a script here (it basically breaks into crazy killer mode by the end in a series of climactic events that only work by the very end, and even there suspension of disbelief is paramount), but her script does convey character before plot, and in a story where the actions surround a heist it's crucial to know who these people are beat by beat. It's bleak as hell, unforgiving as Satan, but also absolutely riveting 90% of the time.

Chalk it up not just because Lumet knows how to handle a non-linear script where we see the day-to-day actions of character to character before during, and mostly after the botched 'mom-&-pop' jewelry store robbery occurs, but because of the formidable cast assembled (which, I might add, is Lumet's specialty). Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are brothers with their own respective financial f***-ups, and the former approaches the latter on what looks like a fool-proof heist: looting their own mother and father's jewelry store in Westchester. Hawke's Hank involves another shady character though, murders occur, and suddenly it's tragedy on a Greek scale affecting the brothers and their father, played by a perfect Albert Finney. It's the kind of material that most actors love- characters who, like in Dog Day Afternoon, are painfully human, flawed to the bone but only wanting love &/or things to be set right, and have the complete inability to fulfill their wants and needs.

In this case though Hoffman and Hawke are matched splendidly; Hoffman has, until the aforementioned last ten minutes, a super-calm and occasionally joking demeanor that reveals him as the brains of the operation, but then smaller scenes where he breaks down emotionally (i.e. with Finney or the car scene with Tomei) push his talents to the limit; Hawke, meanwhile, is called a loser by his ex-wife and daughter, can't pay any debts at all, and is called a baby by his own father, and he fills the bill of the part in all the ways that matter- he's not quite as flawed as his older brother, but who wants to pick a straw for that title? And Finney, as mentioned, is spot-on all the way through, making his turn in Big Fish look like child's play (the final scenes with him are terrifyingly tragic, his face recoiling in a horror that has built up all through the second half).

Also featuring supporting turns from a finely ditsy and perversely two-timing Marisa Tomei, Bug's Michael Shannon as bad-ass white trash, and Amy Ryan, Brian F. O'Byrne and Rosemary Harris making brief, exact impressions, this is a film with a tremendous lot of skill and heart- but not a forgiving heart- with a story that doubles back on details not for showy plot devices but to make clear every step of a family's perpetual downward spiral. If it's not as mind-blowing as Serpico or Network or the Pawnbroker or 12 Angry Men it comes as close as anything Lumet's done since.
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Awful, Manipulative, False, Dishonest Ending (SPOILER)
Knox Bronson11 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I know we all hate bogus "Hollywood" happy endings, but this movie had the opposite: a contrived and very ugly and dark ending.

Those of you who do not think so probably do not have children. But the scene in the hospital where Andy tells his father that he was sorry and Charles tells him it's okay and touches his head - that was plausible and real, and extremely moving and suddenly gave all the horror that had proceeded much weight ... the sorrow and pain that actually can happen in a person's life. As implausible as the rest of the movie was, carried by the great acting, his forgiving there, for the moment, was an amazing turn, and brought tears to my eyes.

However, to have him then so calculatedly and coldly (putting the monitors on his own chest, etc.) KILL his own son conveyed an anger and a hatred which would have, in real life, masked all grief. And up to that time, he had been simply grief-stricken.

It would be nearly impossible for a man to kill his own son, no matter what he did. I know it could happen, but the forgiving, no matter how painful, was much more real.

So the ending was a lie, calculated to shock. It diminished everything, including the audience. I saw it in Berkeley, with an older sophisticated audience, and I don't think people liked it. I kept apologizing to my friends for suggesting the movie. They both agreed the ending was gratuitous and false.

Avoid this movie forever. I don't care how good the acting is.

(Added June 28, 2008): I see that only 13 out of 28 people have found my comment of use. I guess the production company has a bunch of paid trolls to come and down-rate honest comments from non-shill movie viewers. I have found over time that my distaste for this abomination has grown. Not only that, I was reading Andy Warhol's Diaries the other day and he made a crack about Lumet back in the eighties ... Andy could always see through no- talent bullshit (at least I agree with him nearly 100% of the time).

I repeat my original comment: this movie is one of the most dishonest pieces of cr*p ever released. How the people praising this movie can overlook the fact the the father drives right in front of the Ethan Hawke character in the parking lot in front of the jewelry store and Hawke doesn't notice it is beyond me: they are demonstrating the kind of intelligence Hollywood relies upon when creating movies with plot holes/contradictions you could drive a truck through: in other words, total stupidity. And that is just the beginning of this travesty.
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The World Is an Evil Place
Claudio Carvalho26 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
In New York, Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is an addicted executive of a real estate office that has embezzled a large amount for his addiction and expensive way of life with his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei). When an audit is scheduled in his department, he becomes desperate for money. His baby brother Hank Hanson (Ethan Hawke) is a complete loser that owes three months of child support to his daughter, and is having a love affair with Gina every Thursday afternoon. Andy plots a heist of the jewelry of their parent in a Saturday morning without the use of guns, expecting to find an old employee working and without financial damage to his parents, since the insurance company would reimburse the loss. On Monday morning, we would raise the necessary money he needs to cover his embezzlement. He invites Hank to participate, since he is very well known in the mall where the jewelry is located and could be recognized. However, Hank yellows and invites the thief Bobby Lasorda (Brian F. O'Byrne) to steal the store, but things go wrong when their mother Nanette (Rosemary Harris) comes to work as the substitute for the clerk and Bobby brings a hidden gun. Nanette reacts and kills Bobby but she is also lethally shot. After the death of Nanette, their father Charles Hanson (Albert Finney) decides to investigate the robbery with tragic consequences.

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is a comedy of errors, disclosing a good story. The originality and the difference are in the screenplay, with a non-linear narrative à la "Pulp Fiction". The eighty-three year-old Sidney Lumet has another great work and it is impressive the longevity of this director. Philip Seymour Hoffman is awesome in the role of a dysfunctional man with traumatic relationship with his father that feels the world falling apart mostly because of his insecure and clumsy brother. Marisa Tomei is still impressively gorgeous and sexy, showing a magnificent body. The violent conclusion shows that the world is indeed an evil place. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Antes Que o Diabo Saiba Que Você Está Morto" ("Before the Devil Knows You're Dead")
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before Sidney Lumet knows he's dead
rhinocerosfive-131 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Except for the shocking opening image (something Sidney Lumet's been offering up every once in a while for his entire career) this isn't a return to form, unless you mean the form of GUILTY AS SIN or STRANGER AMONG US. Actually it's better than those. But not much better, and no thanks to Lumet, who has indeed directed many fine films. This ain't one of 'em.

This is a marginally watchable crime drama; that's all. The department heads all slept through this one - the bar looks like a bar set. The apartments look like apartment sets. The characters feel more like ideas on paper than like actual people. The script veers from merely okay to pretty much incompetent, and the performances are nobody's best, though Marisa Tomei is reason enough to watch the movie on a couple of levels: she is, as ever, intensely real in every single moment. And she is naked much of the time.

The film's direction is no less aimless than its script, a hallmark of Lumet films from day one. The fragmented narrative does nothing to help the story, or to heighten the drama; it's just a gimmick. We learn nothing extra in our endless flashes to and fro, except how to be frustrated with every scene Marisa Tomei's not in. The violence of the final act makes sense, I guess, in terms of character, but not in terms of drama, or story, or even shock value. There's no tragedy here. There's just a bunch of people crying.
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An Oscar for Sidney
ilovepix1 December 2007
If Lumet doesn't get an Oscar for this gripping thriller it would be a travesty. It is truly a masterpiece. This movie, on its surface, is about a heist gone wrong and that story is enough to warrant high praise, but the underlying tale about corrosive family relationships that lead to tragedy and destruction is Shakespearian in nature.

Everything from the screenplay, the pacing, the editing, to the acting is superb. Philip Hoffman is brilliant, but I must say that I was surprised at being, at least, equally impressed with Ethan Hawke. The rest of the cast, which includes the very talented, Marisa Tomei and the legendary Albert Finney, down to smallest of roles are as perfect an ensemble as you'll ever see in in film.

If you haven't seen this movie, do yourself a favor and go as soon as you can.
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Complete Dreck
rcstephenson12 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
What is the point of this movie? If I need to see evidence of inhumane treatment of others, all I need to do is turn on the news. This is a pointless, depressing movie that is difficult to watch (the lighting was poor, no doubt in keeping with the rest of the movie) with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Who cares if the actors can accurately portray selfish, misguided behaviors and judgments? What is anyone to conclude from this movie: Don't have children? Don't steal from and murder your parents or children? It's OK and justifiable to kill your children if they do it to you first? Clearly, movies do not need to be neatly wrapped morality stories, but c'mon give the audience something other that morose depression. Avoid this movie at all cost.
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May you be in heaven half an hour…Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
jaredmobarak17 November 2007
The often-used phrase about how it was too bad such great acting was wasted on an inferior film has always intrigued me. The last time I felt it was with The Last King of Scotland. There, however, its top-notch performances vaulted its above average story into a pretty enjoyable experience. That is how these instances usually go for me. I don't mind if the movie is on the simple side if the acting is worth the price of admission. A great movie does not need to fire on all cylinders to make me praise it, the acting can always make up for whatever else is lacking. With that said, Sidney Lumet's highly praised new film, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, brings out some electric turns from its cast. Everyone seems to have sunk their teeth in the roles they were given and they knock them out of the park. In that regard I agree whole-heartedly with critics that we have a return to form for Lumet, better known for his gritty character pieces from the 70's. Unfortunately, while last year's Find Me Guilty, his first major film in seven years, was pretty cookie-cutter, it was highly entertaining. I cannot say the same about his new work. Despite its acting clinic, the story is overall boring, contrived, and at times annoying with its gimmick of using multiple story lines to catch what each character was doing before, after, and during the robbery.

Robbery-gone-wrong plots are pretty commonplace. It takes some ingenuity or enjoyable supporting stories to carry an entry in the genre. What was so refreshing for a film like Inside Man is that it was about a robbery gone well. The downfall there was that its periphery Nazi plot was so specific and tacked on, it took away from what worked, the bank heist. Straight from the trailer here, we are told that our leads, Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, have hatched a plan to rob their parents' jewelry store. Knowing all the angles, it would be an in-and-out job with no casualties. We all know that something will be going wrong and that the family will be faced with challenges to recuperate from it, but it doesn't have to be so generic and obvious. Even the other plot threads are unoriginal. For instance, what is thought to be a look inside Hoffman's psyche with drug abuse in a hotel room eventually turns out to have only been introduced so the locale could be used later on—just because we saw it before doesn't let it make sense, it becomes unnatural due to how contrived it is.

Lumet and first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson know that it is all in the details and they show every one of them. We are blatantly shown events and tiny missteps continuously, knowing that they will be coming back into play. The story was so worn that my boredom began manifesting things and scenarios, hoping that the stale events would pick up somehow. Having to see a truck pull into the mall's parking lot, obstructing the view of the brother's parents' car, stuck out so much I started to think that whoever drove it was part of a twist yet to come. Don't bother with any conspiracy theories; it was just a prop to block the parents' identities. It is all so fine-tuned and orchestrated that the story just drags along, culminating in a mixed bag conclusion.

The final half hour or so is pretty good, though. The acting steps up drastically, and that says something since it had been in top form throughout, and the stakes finally get raised to the level of me being truly in the dark to what could happen. Only when every character has their back to the wall does the spontaneity and inventiveness finally come out. Too bad it took three quarters of a bloated two-hour runtime to get there. Not only that, but at the very end, it reverts back into blandness. The ending works, don't get me wrong, it's just that it is what we thought would play out from the start of the final transition—those epileptic screen flashes to let us know we were moving in time to a different character were laughably annoying—to the last main point of view change, while also allowing the results of a major character's arc to be left untouched.

Again, though, despite all that is wrong and unoriginal about the story, the performances are fantastic. Ethan Hawke is his generally spot-on self as the "baby" of the family, literally and figurative. He is roped into the theft by his older brother's smarts and conniving ability to get his sibling to do whatever he wants. As that man, Hoffman is at his best. The salesman smile, the internalizing of his lack of a loving childhood, and the scary rage when the bottom finally falls out, all shape this character to be the most interesting and complex of the bunch. If only Lumet would have honed the film to focus on this role, without all the repetition of getting everyone's viewpoint, Hoffman could have easily carried the story to greatness. All the supporting players are brilliant too. Even Marisa Tomei, in a role that is completely a prop used to connect the brothers and their emotional problems and I guess as eye-candy since she is topless for most of the movie, is wonderful. It's just a shame that the acting couldn't have been the focal point. The mediocre story pushed through too much, instilling boredom on top of the performances that truly captivated my attention.
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