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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 37.04%
Average: 5.56%
Pretty Bad: 9.26%
Total Crap: 0%

5 reviews, 24 user ratings

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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
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by brianorndorf

"One amazing portrait of brotherly hate"
5 stars

Director Sidney Lumet has enjoyed a fruitful career, bejeweled with blinding classics such as “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network,” and “12 Angry Men.” However, nothing in Lumet’s filmography has contained the back alley, concrete-block pummeling of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” a masterful, rampaging descent into the quicksand hell of desperation.

Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) are brothers with a swarm of troubles to their name. To break out of their cycle of debt, Andy proposes robbing the jewelry store run by their parents. At first, Hank is uneasy about this endeavor, but the immediate benefit of a quick heist is too much to ignore, and they set off with a local bar stooge to complete the job. When the simple plan goes awry in a very tragic way, Hank and Andy are caged by their misdeed like animals, with their father (Albert Finney) hungry for revenge on the perpetrators who destroyed his life.

“Devil” is not merely a moody film on the temperament of familial impropriety; instead, the feature is downright biblical in the way it demonstrates wrath, the sheer disgust between the characters spilling over the edges of the frame. It’s difficult to say if this is Lumet’s finest picture, but it’s safe to note “Devil” ranks up there fairly high, holding phenomenal command over a multifaceted psychological story involving human beings continually surpassing their lowest point.

Told in a fractured manner that leaps back and forth in time to isolate every character’s experience (sold with an economical, but highly effective editing cue), screenwriter Kelly Masterson uses simplicity as his starting point, taking the singular event of the botched robbery to survey the reactions of those involved, and how the situation quickly snowballs past the point of no return. Lumet doesn’t attack the plot with kid gloves as he ventures to get inside Andy and Hank’s skin, exploring their enormous frustration and hazardous self-medication with alcohol, drugs, and elaborate fabrications.

There’s not a single dramatic beat missing from this superlative feature film. Lumet covers all of his tracks exceptionally, shoving these tattered lives up tight to the audience for inspection, fearless in dramatizing their suicidal appetites and desperation for monetary salvation. At first, opening the film with the robbery feels like such a mistake, taking the suspense of the story right out of play at the starting line. Yet, “Devil” has bigger fish to fry with Andy’s failing marriage (his frequently nude wife played by Marisa Tomei), his deteriorating work situation, and his bitter attitude toward his birth order. Hank has his ocean of troubles as well, depicted in his nail-biting scenes where the character purges his anxiety in progressively troublesome ways.

It’s needless to even isolate the vitality of the performances. Both Hoffman (as a sleazy manipulator) and Hawke (the unkempt baby of the family) are faultless here, playing to their strengths under Lumet’s scrupulous watch. It’s comforting to observe that “Devil” is an actor’s picture, stepping over rusty plot machinations to focus on intricate reactions and ornate processions of guilt. Nearly every scene reveals a jewel of interpretation that pushes “Devil” into spellbinding new areas of crisis. Finney is equally as superior, but his finest flashes of rage are conserved for the final frames.

“Devil” is electric with fury and fuming displays of bad judgment, and it takes the viewer on an unforgettable ride; every new turn drags the characters hopelessly deeper into an unfathomable situation milked to perfection by Lumet and his finely-tuned ear for tragedy. “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is a blistering piece of moral-smashing cinema that’s more effective at serving up toe-curling depictions of malevolence than any horror film Hollywood could possibly deliver.

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originally posted: 10/26/07 20:26:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell good not great 4 stars
12/28/15 wendell otis maness freddy dead, nat guard gots him 5 stars
4/30/15 darryl schultz It kept me glued to the screen throughout,which is more than I can say of 95% of movies. 5 stars
4/16/12 RLan Weak script and jumped around too much. A good one to skip. 2 stars
12/01/10 wendell maness freddy maness dead kaput i liked this film alot 5 stars
6/11/10 MP Bartley Hoffman shines, Hawke struggles, and the film is dramatically inert. 2 stars
7/13/09 Carol Baker Good Actors but only average plot 3 stars
3/13/09 bronson great great movie. wished it ended more completely 5 stars
2/01/09 Anonymous. wow...what an ending! 5 stars
1/03/09 Lumet is a genius Great stuff. 4 stars
1/02/09 mr.mike Very good , despite the unnecessary time shifting. 4 stars
11/23/08 brian Brilliantly performed and directed but VERY depressing. 4 stars
11/12/08 viagra hi webmasters good 2 stars
8/05/08 R.W. Welch The problem here is there is no one to root for; ergo, not very involving. 3 stars
5/30/08 Proper amateur film critic Brilliant. from one of the truly great directors of all time 5 stars
5/05/08 Monday Morning Ethan Hawke deserves an Oscar for this. So do Marisa Tomei's sweater puppies. 4 stars
4/17/08 action movie fan fairly interesting but ultimately not exciting enough to make this work 3 stars
3/28/08 joe a movie to watch 4 stars
3/20/08 mona cool post dude 5 stars
2/11/08 Wendell Maness I am dead, yes dead and rotting 2 stars
12/06/07 Ole Man Bourbon Jeez, and I thought my life was a mess. 5 stars
12/05/07 Elizabeth Hoffman and Hawke are terrific. Dark and suspenseful. 4 stars
11/12/07 Butt Acting makes it worth a look, otherwise it's pretty average 4 stars
11/12/07 Bert Kaplan Dysfunctional people bringing out the worst in each other. What a bleak outlook.Distasteful 2 stars
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  26-Oct-2007 (R)
  DVD: 15-Apr-2008



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