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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead appears to be the result of the late
Sidney Lumet getting in on a proverbial act; a post-Pulp Fiction
addition to that canon of multi-stranded crime movies for a post-Pulp
Fiction generation, most of whom are still sitting there to this day
stunned that a certain character in Tarantino's 1994 opus can be killed
off about half way through before reappearing again for an extended
time later on. Breaking somewhat of a mould for an audience at that
time, the film's legacy brought to fruition a number of pieces along
varying lines of decency, some of which were Liman's 1999 film "Go" and
Britain's own Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels the year previously.
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead feels like the result of a director
of such esteemed reputation taking a step back; observing and then
advancing so as to try it out for himself, having long since been there
already and most likely with the ability to remember the days when all
this kid's stuff of telling stories out of sync and aiming for
naturalistic dialogue of the time was popular with those youngsters
over in France.
The film reminded me of Clint Eastwood's 2003 piece Mystic River, as a film about this really close knit group of men suffering from the fallout of a tragic occurrence - a death in both cases, as well as either film's depiction of each of them heading off into pits of anguish wherein which they must confront their lifestyles and morality. Said sentence will make the film sound grisly or "difficult"; not so, for it has this filed off and raw edge to it that sees it get by on a number of affecting sequences involving action and consequence, but, crucially, are backed up in its depiction of the sorts of anguish and fallout involving the perpetrators. Much like Mystic River, through its Brian Helegland penned screenplay, there is enough of a mainstream appeal to the project without it at all feeling like a dumbed down series of chases and shootouts.
The film covers several people, mostly male and mostly all of whom are related to one another, over the space of several days. They range from Ethan Hawke's Hank, to Albert Finney's elderly jewelry store owner Charles; in the middle being Hank's elder brother Andy (Hoffman), a drug addict and financial executive whose habits are so affecting that he must absorb some cocaine before an important board meeting, but someone with some serious financial problems and thus desperate enough to put into action what he does. Andy's flimsy wife, Marisa Tomei's Gina, is a further complication to an already simple enough family set up about to go drastically wrong as all of grief; frayed morals and the need for revenge take centre stage. Unfolding in near enough reverse order, with a number of scenes depicted more than once from varying perspectives, a robbery of his own family's store is organised by Andy with the intent to place the blame onto someone else unfortunately, things go wrong; bullets fly and those whom were not supposed to be anywhere near injury are indeed put in a place wherein such things are the least of one's worries.
Lumet directs each strand superbly, with the additional sense of the film's ability to keep action flowing and things consistently happening without necessarily revealing the bigger picture prominent; a bizarre little sensation keeping with us this distinct feeling of everything always on the move and with everything persistently advancing although doing so with the withholding of certain details still prominent. Observe the impeccable build up to the robbery itself: Hank has called on a friend named Bobby to do the robbing whilst Hank does the driving. En route, Bobby listens to loud and scattered grunge music as he drives by himself to the destination; something juxtaposed with the elegant, non-diegetic instrumental music playing over his arrival. One could say the instrumental music epitomises the delicacy of the task at hand, with Bobby's thundering; clumsy and cocksure attitudes exuded through his own physicality and choice of song summing up just how far away he is from what's required.
To speak of it as a causality thriller does not do it justice; this is a cutting, rounded film depicting several people of varying sorts and places in life thrust into a melting pot of strife and bother. Through certain eyes, this may strike people as being akin to a veteran player of snooker, or some other 'longer' format of a sport, taking hold of their trusty cue for a one-off brash, and populist, 9-ball pool tournament which mostly everyone is presently going mad for. In filmmaking terms, the man here is Lumet making a damn good fist of things and, we might hope, making a few new fans along the way whom may very well feel inspired to check out some of what got him to this point in the first place.
1st watched 11/19/2011 6 out of 10(Dir-Sidney Lumet): Interesting narrative about what turns out to be a mixed up family who's brothers' scheme to rob their parents' jewelry store to get money to reverse their individual bad situations. One brother, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, is working a job making six figures but spends it all on drugs and the younger brother, played by Ethan Hawke, is an under-achiever who can't handle his responsibilities(which is primarily his ex-wife and kids). The story is told with each segment being a different timeframe where the filmmaker, the talented Sidney Lumet, moves back-and-forth in time to show us bits and pieces of the story in each segment. It starts with Hoffman's character doing the nastie with (who we find out later) his wife, played by Marisa Tomei, and we also find out later that this is a rare occurrence. We then are brought to the day of the robbery and we see the act take place. You have to pay attention every step of the way to piece together this big puzzle that Lumet lays before us. You may have to watch it a second time to understand all the details(I had to because I misunderstood the important and timing of the initial scene). This is the kind of movie that keeps your interest but will not be fodder for hi-def(visually or surround sound-wise) but tells a good story. The movie is definitely darker than prior Lumet films but you become absorbed with the story and characters and that's what makes the movie work. It's not his best but a good film.
I decided to watch this film because of Sidney Lumet, a director who
has left a legacy of original and provocative films. I was not
disappointed because this movie packs a tremendous punch; the story is
a shocker that shows the depths of human behaviour.
The leading characters are brothers, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Their lives unwind when they consciously decide to commit a robbery, an act that is the first step down a slippery slope to hell on earth. Everyone in their family is implicated, particularly their parents, played by Rosemary Harris and Albert Finney. Albert Finney is excellent in his role as a bereaved husband. Rosemary Harris is an actor I like very much. Her role was short but well delivered. Her death unleashes the hellish sequence of events, displayed in a series of flashbacks that knit the characters together in this tense drama.
Hoffman and Hawke are both excellent. Hawke is the erratic younger brother who is manipulated by Hoffman, who is almost totally without any sense of morality. Marisa Tomei (as Hoffman's wife) is very convincing as the neglected wife who leads her own double life as sexual partner. Brian O'Byrne and Michael Shannon, as blackmailer and stool pigeon, are both outstanding.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sidney Lumet, director of 12 Angry Men (10/10), Deathtrap (9/10), and
Network (8/10), died today at 86. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is
a solid film to end six decades of work. I'm sure Hawke, Hoffman, and
Tomei are happy to have added to their respectable filmographies under
Lumet's direction. After some consideration, I prefer it as it is to a
Ethan Hawke's Hank understandably takes on a straightforward plan and screws up in an idiotic, albeit believable way, essentially destroying his family. It raises the question of how many people would go along with such a crime under similar circumstances.
Philip Seymour Hoffman is outstanding, as he was in Doubt (9/10). Intense and funny, I'm tremendously impressed by him. There isn't a better actor working today in terms of ability and promise.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Most films that start with a bang find it difficult to keep up the
pace, but this one grows deeper as it goes along thanks largely to a
narrative that jumps around chronologically frequently at first, but
less so as the various strands and character motives are gradually
pulled together and a patience that allows it to get under the skin
of its two principal characters.
The cast is first class and the principal players all give creditable performances, although it's Philip Seymour Hoffman who carries the picture as a smarmy but quietly desperate businessman whose financial worries prompt him to hatch the kind of plan that looks foolproof on paper but which you know is destined to unravel the moment it is set in motion. Hawke's character is nowhere near as multi-dimensional as Hoffman's: his Hank is a dim-witted loser, providing the weakest link in both the robbery and the storyline. It takes a certain amount of suspension of disbelief to accept his brother Andy selecting him as an accomplice. Anyone spending more than five minutes in the same room with the guy would know instinctively that he would find a way to screw up the most airtight of plots but his brother doesn't? I don't think so, somehow, no matter how desperate he was.
The film contains a few plot holes like this, and they do tend to niggle as you watch. I think some of them such as Hank renting the getaway car in his own name thereby practically guaranteeing his eventual capture are probably deliberate to enhance the foreshadowing of doom that surrounds the film (and the sense of a net slowly but inexorably closing in around the two brothers is superbly captured) but, for some reason, they just don't sit right. We don't really need the signposts to be written that large, especially as the plot leaves Hank's fate open (although entirely predictable).
Sidney Lumet was 83-years-old when he directed this, and the film stands as a testament to his continuing ability to deliver quality, character-driven entertainment laced with a dark edge. The storyline is both compelling and enjoyable, despite its minor inconsistencies, and is worth a couple of hours of most people's time.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is a wonderfully done, but definitely heavy film where one bad decision leads to mayhem and tragedy. The plot sounds familiar, and in many ways this reminds me of both A Simple Plan and Fargo, but without any humor. By the end, it definitely feels heavy but also worth it. The cast is fantastic here though, most notably Finney and Hoffman, the latter of whom I think is one of the best actors working today, if not the best when it comes to complete filmography and how consistent his performances are. The only one who comes off too cartoonish here is Marisa Tomei. I thought she was great in some scenes, sort of over-doing it in others. Overall, this is fantastic, one of the best of 2007 and I cannot believe it took me this long to watch it.
Veteran director Sydney Lumet's thriller, 'Before the Devil Knows You're Dead', is not one of his finest efforts. The story of a robbery gone wrong in a very dysfunctional family, one problem is the sheer unlikeability of the characters: if they don't exactly ask for what they get, there's a kind of (admitedly grotesque) judgement in their fates. And the tricksy storytelling, following the same events from different angles, doesn't quite work either. This is a good trick when each perspective is natural, and brings one different information; but when we see the story replayed here, most of what we learn is either what we had expected, or material that seems to have been unfairly withheld from the first viewpoint. The way the film starts with a gratuitously explicit sexual scene also grated with me. I've seen plenty of films that are less well put together; but there's an element of originality (along with a degree of underlying motive) that's definitely lacking.
Two brothers plan to rob their parents' jewelry store, counting on insurance to pay and everybody ending up happy. Lumet, who is to be applauded for continuing to augment his notable resume despite being north of 80, does his usual solid job, but the screenplay is lacking. The narrative structure is needlessly complicated by presenting the events from different points of view, but all this does is make the film overlong and repetitive. The ending, meant to be shocking, is predictable and unsatisfying instead. The cast is fine, including Hoffman and Hawke as the brothers, Finney as their father, and very hot and mostly undressed Tomei as Hoffman's wife.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Sidney Lumet (NETWORK; SERPICO; 12 ANGRY MEN)has managed the impossible and has mounted a surprisingly riveting drama thanks to superior acting from a hand-picked cast and Lumet's solid directorial hand. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD is a rather mean-spirited story that is made watchable because of its professional polish and the talent in front of and behind the camera. This intense family drama is the story of Andy and Hank Hanson, two brothers in deep financial trouble, who hatch a plan to rob their parents' jewelry story, a plan that goes horribly awry, resulting in the death of two people. What these brothers plan to do is completely vile and reprehensible; however, thanks to an intricate screenplay by Kelly Masterson, which requires close attention, as it flashes forward and backward to explain what drove these brothers to do what they do and the harrowing consequences of their actions, you understand how the Hanson brothers are driven to do what they do but you can't help but accept the eventual consequences of their actions. Oscar winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman is brilliantly unhinged as Andy, the unconscionable mastermind behind this scheme, with major father issues, whose embezzling at work and drug addiction have driven him to this desperate point. Ethan Hawke delivers the performance of his career as Hank, the high-strung younger brother, three months behind in his child support and labeled a loser by his own daughter, desperate to regain his daughter's respect. Albert Finney is rock solid, as always, as the father, bitter and unapologetic about the kind of father he was, frustrated with the police's lack of interest in nailing the culprit of this horrific crime. Marisa Tomei delivers one of her stronger turns as Andy's empty-headed wife, who is having an affair with Hank and the legendary Rosemary Harris shines briefly in the role of the mother. Brian F. O'Byrne is also memorable in a brief role as Bobby, Hank's partner in executing the robbery. These are unpleasant people wrapped up in an ugly story which you actually find yourself questioning the fact that it is actually unfolding before your eyes, but the actors and director so completely commit to the misery that is this story, that it envelops you and stays with you long after the credits roll.
While the title "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" comes from an
Irish proverb the film plays out like a Greek tragedy. It all starts
with a botched robbery and continues to spiral out of control as two
brothers attempt to escape the mess they've gotten themselves into.
The cast is well-assembled with Philip Seymour Hoffman & Ethan Hawke playing the aforementioned brothers. Notable support includes Albert Finney as their father and Marisa Tomei as the wife of one brother and lover of the other. Beyond these principals the acting is unremarkable.
The story is compelling and is told with a certain degree of verve. The narrative structure keeps things interesting by providing different points of view and frequent time shifts. That being said, the film's unpredictability is somewhat muted since it becomes apparent early on that this story is a tragedy, through and through. All in all, a pretty impressive debut for first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson.
Sidney Lumet's direction is well handled but I'm more impressed by the fact that he's still directing at over eighty years old. I was less impressed by the score by Carter Burwell but it isn't a major distraction.
In the end, the film proves to be compelling viewing and while the story & presentation may have superficial similarities to other films this one remains a unique experience.
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