Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Dir: Sidney Lumet, 2007. Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Michael Shannon. Drama.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Maybe it sounds odd to call a movie "great" if by the end it makes you feel like your soul was taken away, but Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is such a work. With an amazing ensemble cast and a non-linear script that reveals new facts about the characters all the way until the final shot--this is a film that reminds you how powerful dramatic fiction is supposed to work.

Through the different character's perspectives, the film is about the build-up and aftermath of a botched jewelry store robbery in the suburbs. Opening with the violent event, we soon find out afterwards that brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) planned the robbery together as a victimless crime in response to some urgent needs for money. But these aren't your typical, slick movie heist-men whatsoever. Andy is a somewhat well-off business accountant seeking escape for a more fulfilling life, while Hank is a single father who's desperately behind on child support. Part of what makes the film work so well is how the script gradually unfolds and clues the audience into new details as it plays, so the only other plot point worth mentioning here is that the store they rip off happens to be owned by the men's parents, Charles (Albert Finney) and Martha (Amy Ryan).

Violence in Before The Devil... is the kind that matters. When people get shot, it creates an emotional impact that will startle you. Perhaps even more amazing is how director Sydney Lumet actually makes you understand and sympathize with the characters even when their actions are utterly horrifying. There's no clear antagonists or protagonists--only realistic people dealing with ugly situations the best they can.

Perhaps the film has even more resonance today, and would have gained more popularity had it been released this year--financial issues are the root cause of all of its events. Almost any adult could find themselves in similar situations, which makes it something like a modern horror film. But you might prefer to call it a sophisticated tragedy, which is all the more so considering it was rather obnoxiously snubbed for the Oscars in 2008.

Posted by:
Paul Losada
Feb 18, 2009 12:49pm
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