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Lunch » Tags » Movies » Reviews » Before the Devil Knows You're Dead » User review

So-so movie saved by a good narrative style

  • Jun 29, 2008
Pros: Pacing and narrative

Cons: Story as a whole and weak performances

The Bottom Line: If you like the actors, then skip this one. If you like different narrative styles, this one will not disappoint. Still only average at best. Recommended with reservations.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot.

Sidney Lumet’s Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead isn’t a whodunit. The film is a consequence movie told in different chapters from different points of view. The story is somewhat interesting at best; the narrative is the reason to watch it.

Brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are in need of money for different reasons that nevertheless center on women. Andy plans the perfect crime; they intend to rob their parents’ jewelry store—the brothers get the take, the parents get the insurance money and everything is rosy. Obviously things do not go according to plan. Bullets fly when no bullets were supposed to be involved, and two are dead. I will leave out the details here.

The remainder of the film shows the two brothers try to adjust to the situation they made for themselves. Blackmail, extortion, fraud are additional ingredients to help keep the story chugging along. As with every story of this kind there is a general anxiety that grows as the frames stream by, the tenor going from frantic to almost unbearable. As you would expect, there are many dead bodies at the end and it is up to the viewer to determine if there is any amount of “closure.”

As sometimes happens, when I start writing a review, I realize I missed something. In this case my mood indicated that it wasn’t a film worth the time. The story is not original. The path from inception to climax is a rollercoaster we have all been on before. This one is subtly different.

Go, Twenty Bucks, Pulp Fiction all tell stories from different perspectives but each story overlaps so that parts of the entire story are told from two or more points of view. Devil does this but the purpose is totally different. About a third of the film is front story showing the robbery fall apart. The rest of the two thirds come from two additional perspectives, the father Charles (Albert Finney) and Gina (Marisa Tomei). These perspectives are not told from beginning to end, but intermingle. This is what makes Devil worth watching.

Mr. Lumet is a hit or miss director for me. Most of the time, his stark vision and design leave me wanting something else. “Yes I did order this movie, but I expected it to taste better” is the metaphor I use for situations like the one I often find myself with Mr. Lumet. He pulls this one back from forgettable because of the control of the tenor. It works like a heartbeat rather than a mountain climb. You get so far up in one story, then the perspective changes plunging down again only to rise and repeat.

As such, this is not really a casual film. It demands attention and not all of the attention paid is returned in kind, but if you lose one track, you will have to back it up and watch it again or parts of it become very difficult to follow (obviously this comes from experience). I also recommend watching it when you are ready for a familiar story; if you don’t want to see a “story” you know too well, then wait until you can otherwise it is more likely that you will leave it with the first impression I had when I slipped it back into its sleeve.

The performances are weak, which made the film even harder to like. Except for Mr. Finney, each actor was given a character that was just not meaty enough for them. Mr. Hoffman is decent but inconsistent; this can be said for all of the other performances save Mr. Finney’s. This is, without reservation, the worst performance I have ever seen from him.

If you like any of the actors involved, just go in knowing you are going to see their B- game at best. As for Mr. Lumet: if you like his style in general, I think this one will be on par with his better films.


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More Before the Devil Knows You're ... reviews
review by . March 06, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Indulgent acting mars what might have been a hard-edged story. At least we can see Rosemary Harris.
The contradictions, and especially the indulgences, in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead are queasily evident in the first and last scenes. In the first, which pops up as soon as the lights dim, we have a nude, pale, flabbily fat actor doing Pin the Tail on the Donkey with a nude actress on her knees, hips high, in front of him. The only image that came to mind was of a quivering Moby Dick throwing the harpoon at Mrs. Ahab.       The last scene …
review by . January 09, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Dvd cover
Sidney Lumet, the acclaimed director responsible for "Serpico" and "12 Angry Men" returns with another thrilling slice of human drama in "BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD". The man definitely knows how to make a melodrama seem thrilling and immersive. I'm not going to argue with him, Lumet insists that this film is a melodrama rather than a crime thriller. Melodramas is one of the most underestimated genres in film. Whatever genre it may be under, the script by Kelly …
review by . September 12, 2009
   Brothers Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are in desperate need of money and come up with a fool-proof way to get it: They'll rob a small jewelry store. The catch: It's their parents' store.       Wow. I'll say it again: Wow. This movie is the most powerful and exciting film I've seen in a long time. The acting is outstanding, the script is clever and full of surprises, and the direction by Sidney Lumet is superb. Supporting the two stars are …
review by . September 28, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) have financial problems. Hank's ex-wife never lets up about the child support he owes and Andy has been embezzling money from his company. Andy's wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei) is depressed and pressures him to move to Brazil, where she believes all their troubles will be over. She's also having an affair with Hank. Andy devises a scheme to steal from their parents' small jewelry store and convinces Hank to perform the burglary. …
review by . December 01, 2008
All this fancy flip-flopping fore and aft in time, showing every scene twice, might save money on script but it couldn't save a scrawny turkey like "Before the Box Office Knows You're Dead" on the day after Thanksgiving. It's been done, dudes! Get a new gimmick!    I hope they paid Philip Seymour Hoffman a bundle for this humiliation. He's a great actor but his freckled b_tt does nothing for me.
review by . April 20, 2008
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. …
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Sidney Lumet’sBefore the Devil Knows You’re Deadis an exceptionally dark story about a crime gone wrong and the complicated reasons behind it. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke are outstanding as brothers whose mutual love-hate relationship subtly colors their agreement to rob their own parents’ jewelry store, and more explicitly affects the anxious aftermath of their villainy when their mother (Rosemary Harris) ends up shot. Hoffman’s steely, emotionally locked-up Andy, despite pulling down six figures as a corporate executive, is supporting an expensive drug habit while trying to leave the country with his depressed wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei). Hank (Hawke), a whipped dog of low intelligence, owes back alimony and child support to his ex-spouse. Both men need money and agree to rip off their parents' business, a decision that goes awry and puts both men in various kinds of jeopardy while their mother remains comatose and their father (Albert Finney) lurches along trying to make sense of anything. Writer Kelly Masterson's screenplay employs a perhaps now-overly-familiar time-shifting tactic, jumping around the chronology of the story's events and replaying scenes from different vantage points. The effect is a little tedious but successfully deconstructs the film's drama in a way that shows how such terrible events are directly linked to family dysfunction, old wounds between parent and child, between siblings, that fester into ...
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Director: Sidney Lumet
Genre: Drama
Release Date: November 2, 2007
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Sidney Lumet
DVD Release Date: April 15, 2008
Runtime: 1hr 56min
Studio: ThinkFilm
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"A Family Implosion"
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