Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


The first time you see Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) walk outside his parents house to have what passes for a heart to heart with his old man, it’s through the eyes of his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei). It won’t be the first time you see this scene, the next time will be outside, and by the time you get to it you won’t be frustrated that you didn’t see it earlier but relieved that your watching a movie that takes so much time to invest you into the characters, to the point where you don’t mind seeing the scenes slowly and surely unraveled throughout the course of the film.

The second time this scene is shown Gina is in the background looking through the window, she hangs over this scene and the rest of the movie as an onlooker. She understands, we think, what is happening around her during the course of the film, but like her were not sure…we just know something is very, very wrong.

Gina and Andy are just two of the great characters in Sidney Lumet’s “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”. The latter and his brother, Hank (Ethawn Hawk) are both in need of money for their own reasons. Hank, among other things, needs money to send his young daughter on a class field trip to The Lion King. Hank lives an obviously miserable life, he is a failure to his daughter and his former wife only talks to him when shes asking for the late child support. He seems to mean well, but these things happen. Andy has a lucrative job and a loft high up in a New York sky rise. He has little problem with heroin that only seems to be getting worse. Andy comes up with a plan: but he forces Hank to agree that he’ll do it before he tells him what it is. He agrees, and Andy tells him of a little jewelery store that is uncrowded and insured. It’s foolproof, but things happens. And that’s as far as a credible reviewer can take you, for telling anything more would waste away at least five or seven minutes of suspense; in a movie where every scene is a winner that is too much.

Just know that this is a great film, and Albert Finney plays one of the best roles I’ve seen in a very long time. The acting throughout is nearly flawless, with Hoffman and Hawk absolutely on fire and Tomei irresistible with and without clothes on, giving a truly great performance. Watch a scene towards the end, her reaction. You’ll know it when you see it. And pay attention to Lumet’s direction, which is patient enough to let us watch these scenes, helped in no small part by a screenplay that reveals everything exactly at the moment not when you want to, but when you need to.

I can’t wait to see “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” again. Yes, I’ll know what happens, but I’m eager to revisit the dialog; which if it isn’t what people would say in these situations then I don’t know what is. And I want to see again how the story unfolds itself, because I have a feeling that after many viewings I still won’t know what to expect next.

The film begins with it’s only moment of respite. Andy and Gina are making love in Brazil, they lay in bed and wonder aloud why it’s never “like this” back home. Then we get a black screen and the old Irish proverb “May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows your dead.” You’ll consider after you finish if some people get that long.

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~ by rozco on February 4, 2009.

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