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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 Albert Finney as their father and Marissa Tomei as Andy's wife. They are both excellent. The story reminded me a lot of A Simple Plan which also had two greedy brothers with a can't-miss scheme that quickly and tragically becomes a nightmare. This movie is so intense, I was often saying, "Yikes!" to myself and holding my breath a lot. It's that good.
The only thing I didn't like is the way the story constantly goes back and forth in flashbacks; I don't think that added anything and was a bit frustrating for me. But still, if you like emotional crime dramas, you'll love this movie. Explicit sexuality and non-stop profanity.
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85 of 99 people found the following review helpful
A Family ImplosionApril 20 2008
- Published on Amazon.com
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. In this film the viewer is allowed to witness the gradual but nearly complete implosion of a family by a much used but, here, very sensible manipulation of the flashback/flash forward technique of storytelling. By repeatedly offering the differing vantages of each of the characters about the central incidents that drive this rather harrowing tale, we see all the motivations of the players in this case of a robbery gone very wrong.
Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a wealthy executive, married to an emotionally needy Gina (Marisa Tomei), and addicted to an expensive drug habit. His life is beginning to crumble and he needs money. Andy's ne're-do-well younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a life in ruins - he is divorced from his shrewish wife Martha (Amy Ryan), is behind in alimony and child support, and has borrowed all he can from his friends, and he needs money. Andy proposes a low-key robbery of a small mall mom-and-pop jewelry store that promises safe, quick cash for both. The glitch is that the jewelry story belongs to the men's parents - Charles (Albert Finney) and Nanette (Rosemary Harris). Andy advances Hank some cash and wrangles an agreement that Hank will do the actual robbery, but though Hank agrees to the 'fail-safe' plan, he hires a friend to take on the actual job while Hank plans to be the driver of the getaway car. The robbery is horribly botched when Nanette, filing in for the regular clerk, shoots the robber and is herself shot in the mess. The disaster unveils many secrets about the fragile relationships of the family and when Nanette dies, Charles and Andy and Hank (and their respective partners) are driven to disastrous ends with surprises at every turn.
Each of the actors in this strong but emotionally acrid film gives superb performances, and while we have come to expect that from Hoffman, Hawke, Tomei, Finney, Ryan, and Harris, it is the wise hand of direction from Sidney Lumet that make this film so unforgettably powerful. It is not an easy film to watch, but it is a film that allows some bravura performances that demand our respect, a film that reminds us how fragile many families can be. Grady Harp, April 08
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Descent into dysfunctionDec 25 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
At the age of 83, director Sidney Lumet proves he still has plenty of juice. And once again, Philip Seymour Hoffman proves he is one of the finest American actors working today. This powerful one-two punch nails this movie into your head; and that's further guaranteed by, a) great acting by the rest of the cast, including Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and, in a bravura performance, Albert Finney, and b) a shockingly dark portrait of a family so dysfunctional it almost makes the Texas Chainsaw Massacre folks look tame. Well, almost.
Two brothers, played by Hawke and Hoffman, work in the same real estate company, but are hugely different. Hoffman's the bigshot; Hawke's not. Hawke's divorced; Hoffman's married to Tomei and the opening graphic scene shows just how married the two of them are. Hoffman's got problems and so does Hawke, but they're different problems, although both have their root in money.
Money drives this sucker and leads to greed, murder, despair, fear, and retribution. This is one of the darkest of noir tales in a long while; it's a noir family drama that's so unrelenting your chin drops further and further as the movie progresses and by the whopper of a tragic ending, it's definitely on the sidewalk.
But this is what makes it so compelling. It's astonishingly powerful; fundamentally, you can't believe how things can spiral so much out of control the way they do in this movie, but they do, they definitely do.
Hawke and Hoffman both needing money leads to a plan to get said money, and, of course--this being a noir film at its blackest heart--to get it completely illegally. Watch this movie to see how noir is REALLY done today, in the 21st century. As another critic pointed out, it's not so much that these guys are criminals, but that they are essentially average guys with some smarts who are in real jams and who take what looks like an easy way out to remove those jams...meaning that these guys could be you or me.
This is a real kick in the teeth movie. Serious punch, powerful acting, a director with real chops at the age of 83, and one you won't forget for a LONG time.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
"The world is an evil place, Charlie. Some of us make money off of that. Others get destroyed..."April 26 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is one of the best movies to come out of 2007. It's involving, thrilling and even at times terrifying to see how normal everyday people can do terrible and unimaginable things. It's also a film that shows you that nothing is ever simple and even what seems to be the most simple or "victimless" crime can lead to devastating consequences that can shatter lives.
"Victimless." That's exactly the term Andy uses when he explains to his brother how they can get some easy cash. Both are in desperate need of money. Andy says that there is a solution to all of their problems, and that is to hit a mom-and-pop jewelery store that they both know very well. No guns will be used. No cops will be called. And most importantly, nobody will get hurt. How can it go wrong? Very wrong, that's how. Wrong as in that people do get hurt and that the aftermath can lead to the destruction of an already damaged family in the gripping melodrama that goes to show you just how evil the world can be sometimes.
Not a moment went by where I didn't find myself hooked. Not a minute went by where I could predict what was going to happen next. That's a real treat when you are in the presence of a confident film that won't resort to the usual cliches or predictable twists and turns. The writing and performances are outstanding. Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives one of his best and darkest performances as a man who can be so manipulative and cold, yet you sense that there is a longing for love and acceptance that he has inside of him that wasn't shown to him when he was younger. Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney are also terrific and deserve high praises.
There is a risk that comes with a film like this, and that is the fact that there will be a lot of people who won't like it. It's very dark, depressing and even gives you a sense of hopelessness that things can ever be good for these characters. But, because this movie is so well executed, it makes you want to take the trip even if it's not a joyful one. The DVD includes cast and crew commentary, a theatrical trailer and a making of featurette.
I have seen this film many times now, and it never loses its power and emotion for me. True, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is not for everybody, but it is a remarkable film that deserves to be seen. If you're looking for a crime story where you actually care about the characters, as flawed as they may be, then this may be the one for you. -Michael Crane
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A very chilling and engrossing film!Nov. 30 2007
- Published on Amazon.com
I had a pretty good idea of the basic plot when I walked into the theatre. Two brothers (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) plan to hold up a jewelry store in a strip mall...and the store is owned by THEIR PARENTS. I also knew it bounced around in time a little.
What I didn't expect was such an unrelenting look at a whole bunch of magnificently screwed-up people! WOW! I was left almost breathless by the new depths to which these folks could sink. It was a family tragedy, but there sure wasn't anything noble about these characters.
Hawke is the younger brother, and he works for the same company as his brother, but in a fairly lowly position, and he can barely make ends meet. He's way behind on his child support, and his daughter is growing more and more aggravated with him because he can't follow through on his promises to her to do things like fund her field trip to go see THE LION KING on Broadway. He appears to be ever so slighly dim-witted, although that may just be the drugs. He lives in a rough apartment and has some pretty rough friends.
Hoffman is the older brother, and while on the surface he may appear to be a little more together (he has a fairly responsible accounting position in the company)...we actually see as the movie progresses that he's in some seriously deep trouble. His marriage to Marisa Tomei is very much on the rocks, and the only good times they had recently were on vacation in South America. He believes he can start a new life down there, and keep his marriage going...but how to fund such a move? He's also into some pretty hefty drugs and even his larger salary can't fund it all.
It's his idea to rip-off the parents. ("Hey, they're insured.") Hawke finally buys into it, and they enter into the plot. It isn't spoiling much (because we see it so early in the film) to say that things don't exactly go smoothly! I won't say more, so you can see for yourself.
So why are these two guys SO screwed up? We see some of this as more scenes between the boys and their parents are revealed. In particular, we see their relationships with their father, Albert Finney. He's an old man now, but we get the idea that when he was younger, he was pretty tough old bird, difficult to please, lacking in affection and just a real poor father. Scenes with mother Rosemary Harris are fewer and less illuminating. It's really a story about how men in a family can screw each other up. BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD takes this idea to EXTREMES.
Towards the end, the actions of Hoffman in particular become almost monumentally deranged. We believe that he is doing what he's doing...but it's hard not to gasp in dismay. He is truly a completely broken and desparate man. All sympathy we might have had for him is gone...just like any sense of a moral compass he might have had. And Albert Finney arguably goes even one step more off the path of righteousness at the very end.
Anyway, I hope you get that this is not a happy, light film. But it is powerful, astonishingly well acted and written, and an absolute must-see. It's a riveting time at the theatre!!!
Hoffman is brilliant...pure and simple. His work here easily equals anything he's done before. I don't know if the film will be an Oscar contender, because it has such a small audience...but it should be and absolutely Hoffman should be up for Best Actor. Hawke is also very good...he is a complete coward and makes up both sympathize him and despise him. He could be up for Best Supporting Actor. Finney is always an imposing presence...and he's very good here. Again, I can't tell you too much without spoiling the plot line, but let's say he goes very convincingly from distraught to enraged. Marisa Tomei does another masterful performance as the woman who unknowingly is the downfall of the men in her life (in some ways...don't accuse me of being a chauvenist...I'm just saying that a lot of the choices the characters make revolve around trying to please her). She gives a brave performance (she spends a lot of time in the nude) and is her usual mixture of sultry and defenseless. If her role in IN THE BEDROOM got her a nomination (which she deserved) then I think she could have another one here.
Director Sidney Lumet may be getting on in years...but my goodness, he sure doesn't hesitate to step right into some very murky and unpleasant waters. His film is super specific, has a wonderful sense of place and he also gives his great cast the space they need to "do their stuff." No quick edits, or blitzkreig pacing when it doesn't suit. He believes we will be gripped by the story, and he's right.
This is not a film for the kids! Nor is it a film for someone looking for a glossy Hollywood film. It's pretty brutal and uncompromising. But I couldn't tear myself away, and the audience I saw it with was clearly as mesmerized as I was. GREAT stuff!!!
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A thrilling and powerful film.Nov. 25 2007
Miles D. Moore
- Published on Amazon.com
"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is one of the most thrilling crime dramas of recent years, proving that the octogenarian Sidney Lumet is just as brilliant a director as he ever was. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke, looking like Francis Bacon caricatures of themselves, play financially strapped brothers who decide to solve their cash flow problems by robbing their parents' jewelry store. Needless to say, the robbery goes very, very wrong. The tense, fragmentary screenplay fills us in bit by bit as to the robbery, the events leading up to it and its aftermath, showing us not only the brothers' growing desperation but the family rivalries and character weaknesses that made the final tragedy inevitable. The final scene, a grotesque mockery of the perfect crime the brothers envisioned, suggests that apples never fall far from the tree. Like a crazed, three-way cross between "Memento," "The Asphalt Jungle" and "Death of a Salesman," "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead" keeps viewers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end. Hawke gives an indelible portrait of a pathetic loser (even his young daughter pegs him as such) and Hoffman is even better as the domineering elder brother, whose masterful calm is only skin-deep. The supporting players match the leads; Albert Finney, as Hoffman and Hawke's father, plays the last half of the film in a whirlwind of disbelieving grief and anger, his face twisted into a gargoyle mask of pain. Rosemary Harris gives a poignant performance as the family matriarch, while Marisa Tomei and Amy Ryan are impeccable as Hoffman's wife and Hawke's ex. "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" can justifiably be considered as the best movie in Lumet's career. Considering that his other movies include "Twelve Angry Men," "Network" and "Dog Day Afternoon," that's saying something.