BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD
Broke and in debt, Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is unhappy with his life, as is his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei). His younger, less resolute brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is divorced and behind with the child support payments. Andy suggests an outrageous solution: robbing the Hanson family's suburban jewellery store, owned by their parents (Albert Finney & Rosemary Harris). The insurance will cover the loss, and the heist will be dead easy since they know the workings of the store. Reluctantly, the desperate Hank agrees - but can't face the task himself, so hires a small time thug, who insists on taking a real gun for the job. Nobody was meant to get hurt, but then nothing that happens was meant to happen and the heist sets off a cascade of disastrous decisions and revelations.
Review by Louise Keller:
With its provocative title of impending doom, Sidney Lumet's 45th film has us captive from the outset. The title's origin (Irish toast 'May you get to heaven a half hour before the Devil knows you're dead), describes the rapid and surefire disintegration from heaven to hell. The film is about a heist gone wrong, but it's a heist with a difference. The Mom and Pop Jewellery store in the suburbs happens to be protagonists' own Mom and Pop. What initially appears to be an easy way for Philip Seymour Hoffman's payroll officer Andy to solve his pressing financial problems becomes the starting point for the ruination of lives and the family unit. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, hell hath no mercy like a family member wronged.
Kelly Masterton's tantalising script has so many legs, they almost walk by themselves. The explicit opening sex scene between Hoffman's Andy and his trophy wife Gina (Marisa Tomei) gives us a taste of heaven. But the journey into hell is not far away. Next, we witness a robbery in which everything goes wrong. It is not until the whole story is told (from different perspectives and camera angles) that we realise how wrong things can possibly get. As we watch the lead up to the events, we get to know the inner workings of the three main characters. Hoffman's Andy is a chilling character. He is neat, self contained and expressionless, but unlike his accounting work, his life doesn't add up. Ethan Hawke's Hank is the baby of the family. Messy, well meaning and likeable, Hank is a bit of a loser, and lives at the beck and call of his money-hungry ex wife. 'I'm not a serious crime kinda guy,' he tells Andy, when Andy makes his shocking proposal. Then there is Albert Finney's Charles, the disappointed father who has never related to his older son.
What begins as the perfect crime unravels quickly and irretrievably. Events and consequences become a whirlpool of destruction. Performances are all superb. Hoffman stands out as the man who outwardly copes but inwardly crumbles, while Hawke imbues the essence of a man on the brink. Tomei is both decorative and impressive as the woman in between who never reveals herself. Finney displays the desperation prompted by a life time of disappointment. This is a marvellous film, filled with tension, drama and emotional angst. Resentment, need and greed are the key motivators, so it is no surprise when a backstreet jeweller remarks, 'The world is an evil place.'
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Sidney Lumet's prowess with actors is legendary, so it's no surprise that he gets towering performances from everyone in the juicy, hard boiled melodrama from writer Kelly Masterson (his first script, and it took seven years to find a director who'd make it). And with this sort of melodrama, the performances are critical: we have to believe them even as these characters make the worst possible decisions. But we connect with their circumstances and understand why they act the way they do - even though we are forever whispering at them, "No, not that! Don't do it!"
Philip Seymour Hoffman is sensational as Andy, the deeply troubled and dishonest employee whose career is making him less happy than he imagines, with a wife who is cheating on him. But when the film begins, they are in Rio having a good time in bed - a rare event, it seems. We soon realise that the surface he is skating on is thin. Ethan Hawke is equally terrific as younger brother Hank, the less assured of the two, and without the strength of character to make much of his life. Already divorced, he is behind on the payments and is unable to help himself. He is a puppet in Andy's outrageous plan.
Marisa Tomei, resplendent in underwear, is coolly explosive, and the veterans Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris are predictably good. Finney has the bigger role, and his emotional journey is shattering.
Told with effective shifts back and forth in time, there is a sense of urgency throughout the film, thanks to the plot and its various deadly threads involving infidelity, betrayal, lust, drugs, theft and a great deal of lying. This urgency is achieved, thanks to Lumet's experience and sensibility, without resorting to fashionable but distracting hand held camerawork. There is only one short scene when the camera is not on legs, and then it's a Steadicam that follows Andy through an apartment, as if we were following him. Carter Burwell graces the film with a suitably complex and dark score, and the production design is flawless. In all, a riveting film with enough texture to satisfy the most jaded movie palate.
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BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD (MA)
CAST: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan,Brian F. O'Byrne
PRODUCER: Michael Cerenzie, William S. Gilmore, Brian Linsa, Paul Parmar
DIRECTOR: Sidney Lumet
SCRIPT: Kelly Masterson
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ron Fortunato
EDITOR: Tom Swartwout
MUSIC: Carter Burwell
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christopher Nowak
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 20, 2008