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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)


  • Review: ** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Brian F. O'Byrne, Blaine Horton, Arija Bareikis, Leonardo Cimino, Lee Wilkof
  • Director: Sidney Lumet
  • Screenplay: Kelly Masterson
  • Length: 117 min.
  • MPAA Rating: R (for a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language)

When has a heist ever gone off without a hitch? Within the first fifteen minutes, you see part of the end result, but spend the rest of Before the Devil Knows You're Dead waiting for the end.

Heading up the all-star cast are Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) and Ethan Hawke (Training Day) as brothers who each have their part to play in an attempt to make a little bit of money. Andy (Hoffman) is a payroll administrator who hatches a plan that will have his down-on-his-luck brother Hank (Hawke) robbing the family jewelry store. Albert Finney plays their father Charles and Rosemary Harris is mother Nanette. They are completely oblivious to the plan until the robbery goes bad and Nanette ends up in a coma.

Andy's problems stem largely from a desire to run away with his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) and escape his boring day job. He also has a heroin addiction that may add to the coloration of his concept of reality.

Morally conflicted in the matter, Hank does his best to avoid getting directly involved in the plan going so far as to hire someone else to perform the actual heist while he drives the getaway vehicle.

The story is hopelessly muddled. Screenwriter Kelly Masterson seems to be trying to follow in Quentin Tarantino's footsteps. The film bears narrative similarity to Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs while trying to mix in more natural settings.

The film features performances that seem so over the top that the naturalism is wasted and a sort of hackneyed examination of the genre is the result. The story perpetuates the Hollywood aversion to realistic relationships. As is the custom, the beautiful woman ends up with the ugly man. Although she has feelings for the better-looking brother, it's clear from the opening scene that we're watching a bedroom version of the Hollywood casting couch.

We're bombarded with Hawke's overreaction to the shooting death of his partner and Hoffman's histrionics throughout the production. The only time we're not forced to watch overly intense performances is when Tomei is on the screen. She brings much needed balance to her scenes, but those are limited.

Director Sidney Lumet's (12 Angry Men) film repertoire is filled with notable efforts, but he hasn't produced a good one since Running on Empty nearly two decades ago. So, it's no surprise that we're treated in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead to a less than spectacular heist film. Its his inability to rein in his actors that gets him into the most trouble, but he can also be faulted for not controlling the script and keeping the film flowing.

After the third or fourth story rewind to separate events leading up to the conclusion, it becomes clear that the filmmakers either aren't certain where the story's going or they're padding for time. In the end, it's hard to fathom caring about any of the characters, except maybe for Harris who's given virtually nothing to do in the film.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is another genre exercise that fails to deliver more than a perfunctory story and limits itself to what's written instead of exploring and expanding it.