A movie playing in theaters right now that few have heard of, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as two financially strapped brothers whose botched burglary attempt triggers a series of fatal fiascos. Albert Finney and Marisa Tomei also star.
The movie begins with a burglary of a small jewelry shop in the suburbs. The burglary ends with the robber shot dead and the store owner, an old woman named Nanette (Rosemary Harris), seriously injured. From there, we learn that Hoffman and Hawke, two brothers named Andy and Hank respectively, planned the heist, and that Nanette is their own mother. While Nanette was never intended to be shot or even be at the store at the time, the impact of the crime explodes as the two brothers attempt to cover up their trail while at the same time dealing with the grief of losing their mother, and realize that others may know about what they’ve done.
Devil balances itself between being a family drama and a crime thriller, and does so fairly effectively. All of the actors involved turn in great performances. Hoffman may be the best of the bunch, but since I’ve grown to expect so much of him, his performance didn’t stand out in any particular way. Hawke, however, delivers his best performance in years, and while his character might be an annoying, crying idiot at times, he plays one with conviction. Finney is also excellent as the father who has to deal with the loss of his wife and something even worse.
Why Marisa Tomei chose this movie is beyond me, as she has very little dialogue or character development but does have an amazing amount of nude scenes.
The screenplay is also quite good, and director Sidney Lumet and writer Kelly Masterson have done a terrific job of making a rather “ordinary” story something more. The story is told out of chronological order, and we are given snippets of each character’s perspective in chapters. This is a pretty effective storytelling method when done right, and Devil pulls it off. That being said, this method often works best when there are big secrets to be revealed, and Devil really doesn’t have many amazing surprises up its sleeve. Still, Devil works with its great blend of drama and suspense, and, as is the case with many stories such as this, things spiral out of control for the main characters very quickly. Let’s just say that several people get killed in the final act of the movie.
I hadn’t seen a crime thriller like this in quite a while and it’s refreshing to see that directors are still making these kinds of films, even though they don’t have much box office potential. Devil is engaging and maintains a pretty good pace, though tightening in a few places would have helped. Devil is good for what it is, but I was never blown away by the movie or its story.
If you like crime dramas, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a good one, though it doesn’t leave any lasting impressions on you.
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