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You Have About 30 Minutes in Heaven Before the Devil Knows You're Dead!

  • Jan 9, 2009

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 Masterson comes to life with Lumet's touch. It is a surprisingly powerful thriller (ahem), I mean melodrama.

Two brothers; Hank (Ethan Hawke) and Andy Hanson(Philip Seymour Hoffman) have their own share of problems. Hank is way behind in child support payments and Andy is having some marital issues with Gina (Marisa Tomei), and his miss-dealings at work is in danger of becoming uncovered. They hatch up a supposed "perfect" crime to rob their parent's (played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) small jewelry store to escape their issues. Unexpectedly, the robbery goes awry, and the Hanson brothers find themselves in a deeper predicament than ever before.

According to legendary director Sidney Lumet, a melodrama is a film whereas the characters drive the plot rather than the screenplay. The film was originally meant to be a crime caper-thriller but with Lumet's very steady hand, it becomes more a slice of life or rather a very black view of a dysfunctional family. The film begins with a scene in Rio with Andy and Gina making love; yes there is graphic sex and nudity but the way Lumet handles the scene is quite ingenious. The scene serves up a lot of character development for our main protagonist Andy. Gina (Marisa Tomei) is also having an affair with her husband's brother Hank, that also serves up a lot of "amped" up intensity in their relationship. The screenplay by Masterson originally wrote the two as only friends and thank goodness for Lumet's insistence that they be written in as brothers. However dark and bleak the film's premise is, it succeeds in serving up the needed credibility and believability in its characters and the situation they are in.

The film's first half is in a fragmented style and it works. The film deals with Hank, then Andy and then Hank again. The sequences occur 3-4 days before the robbery and gives definite focus as to why and the how the two brothers could come up with a devilish scheme such as this. At first, I had some difficulty believing that two off springs could carry out a crime such as this, but as the film progresses, the character-driven plot is given room to convince. Andy is an individual who just cannot appreciate what he has and Hank is well, as their dad says, "like a baby". The film has some very noteworthy scenes before and after robbery that gives the plot a lot of emotion.

Of course, for an emotionally-charged melodrama, the cast has to perform almost remarkably, and they do. Academy award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman actually carries most of the film, but it would be unfair to say that the film is a success because of his superb performance. Ethan Hawke also does a convincing job as the nervous, "loser" brother who is also a father in a bind. Academy award winner Marisa Tomei's character, Gina may be a little underdeveloped, but the actress does maximize whatever she had to work with. Tomei plays her character with a sort of a mild femme fatale in the beginning, Marisa is so sexy and her facial expressions can work the camera when it comes to emotion. Albert Finney plays the father determined to find those behind the robbery, and his mannerisms and actions display pure emotional pain.

Sidney Lumet definitely knows how to bring the best out of his cast and this film is another testament to his directorial skills. The script may not offer that many surprises, (you can tell from a mile away that the film will be bleak and black) and the climax may feel a bit perfunctory and opens up a few unanswered questions but the structure and the direction is solid enough to immerse the audience. For me, at least, the ending gives an exclamation point and serves up some details left for our imagination and understanding.

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" makes for a very gripping and bleak melodrama and it comes with a highly recommended rating from me. The characters do come alive and the film's plot is interesting enough to keep you glued to your seat. You are about to be taken for a ride…


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July 15, 2010
This is one of those flicks that I own and have yet to pop in, great review WP I may be checking this out this weekend.
September 12, 2009
This is a wonderful review! I just saw the movie and found it thrilling and Lumet, as you say, did an incredible job.
September 12, 2009
Thank you, Kona. Happy you liked the review and this movie is such a joy to do a review on. I see you've also done your own review...
January 25, 2009
I'll be seeing this one day, no doubt about it since I've been a big fan of Albert Finney's since TOM JONES. But I'll probably wait for it to come on Comcast since my Netflix queue is loaded with a long line of very weird things that I'm dying to see--Bollywood too.
September 12, 2009
seen this one yet?
September 13, 2009
Not yet. I have Vinyan for tonight.
January 11, 2009
Hey, Rainy, thanks for the comment. This movie actually surprised me, I wasn't expecting it to be real good. I love PSH's acting--he really carried the film and with Lumet at the helm as director, it just can't miss.
January 09, 2009
Yes, i agree with you, I thought the movie was a very appropriate suspense movie for its own world that kept me surprised after surprised...cut to PSH going farther and farther down the rabbit hole, if you know what I mean. It also doesn't hurt to have Lumet and Hoffman as contributers to your movie.
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 . 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 . June 29, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
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. …
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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