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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

October 18, 2009

7/10 Bad Ideas

A good, overlooked movie about really bad people making one really bad decision after another until they’re too far deep to achieve any kind of redemption. It’s a real pick-me-upper alright.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead follows the lives of two brothers, the older of which is rich and successful, the younger of which is not so much of either.  So when the younger bro goes to his older bro for some financial assistance, the older bro comes up with a freakin’ genius scheme if there ever was one – to rob their parents’ jewelry store in broad daylight.

A Swiss watch of a plan if you ask me.

Anyway, it’s directed by Sidney Lumet, a guy who’s seemingly been putting out a new movie every other weekend for the past thirty years, some of which being Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, Network, 12 Angry Men, and a slew of other great movies that would probably compel some directors to just quit while they’re ahead. Point is, if you’ve never heard of him, take note, sucka’s. Lumet knows his shit and this is one more gritty, accomplished addition to his epic collection of work.

But aside from Lumet, the main draw to this movie is its cast. The younger brother is played by Ethan Hawke, and even though he always seems to me like the same emotional, mopey, misunderstood teen he played in Dead Poets Society, I like Ethan Hawke. He’s pretty good here and gets the job done.

But the older brother is played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and I don’t really need to add much to that considering he has made it perfectly clear by now that he is not fucking around. He’s the most morally corrupt character in the movie with the most character development, and it also helps that he’s got the best lines that allow him to yell a lot. Hoffman’s just a wild man and a rip to watch every time. Very good casting choice.

Marisa Tomei is also here as Hoffman’s two-timing girlfriend, and if you thought she was comfortable with her body in The Wrestler, consider this a glaring precursor of things to come. Very, very naked. All the time. But she’s a good actor, too. So that works out.

Albert Finney’s good in it, too. I like Albert Finney, solid actor.

But aside from the cast, the story is also good and memorable in a very intense and totally unsettling way. I was about to call it forgettable, then I remembered the pit in my stomach I had after walking out of the theater and how all I wanted was for the person sitting next to me to reach over and give me a hug. This is one well-written, pitch-black movie with some of the most believably evil characters I’ve seen in a good while. Some of this shit would make Darth Vader shake his head and say, “Jesus H. Murphy, this family’s a freakin’ mess.”

Only complaint is that it’s almost too dark at times. After a while you really just want these people to catch a break, more for your own sake than for theirs, but it doesn’t take much foresight to figure out that things aren’t exactly turning up for this family. How about a knock-knock joke or something? Anything! Please!

I remember when this first came out someone convinced my aunt that she’d like this movie – my super-nice aunt who can barely handle anything worse than The Sound of Music – and, needless to say, the poor woman was borderline shell-shocked by the time the end credits rolled around. It’s not for everyone – actually, it’s definitely not for everyone – but if you’re in the mood for family tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, you might want to check this out, Debbie Downer.

And with the holidays coming up, the next time you need a reminder that you’re dysfunctional family really isn’t all that bad, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead will do the trick just fine.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2009 2:14 pm

    I don’t think I liked this quite as much as you did, although I did like it a fair amount. I never felt it really gelled together like I wanted, but it did have plenty of naked Marisa Tomei and you can’t go wrong with that.

  2. October 19, 2009 1:10 pm

    sorry Aiden R and BT – i hated pretty much everything about this
    pretentious drivel from a great director who really ought to know better

    • October 19, 2009 2:06 pm

      Haha, that’s alright. Not gonna hold it against you.

  3. mcarteratthemovies permalink
    October 20, 2009 11:09 am

    This is another great entry in the “best-laid plans shot all to hell” subgenre (“Fargo” being a shining beacon of light). Everyone was awesome in this film, but Philip Seymour Hoffman — whoa. He went all in, just balls-to-the-wall with his intensity and his commitment to a very flawed character. He overshadowed Ethan Hawke, which is sad because he delivered a very fine performance. The jarring, “Memento”-like timewarping got a little old after awhile, but the acting kept me riveted.

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