Film Reviews

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD

By • Oct 26th, 2007 •

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He’s 83 years old and still has the vitality and lust to make a terrific heist-gone-bad movie!

The Irish said it: “May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head be always strong. And may you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

I know several extremely vital 83 year olds, so it is no surprise that director Sidney Lumet has helmed a high-strung, raw heist-gone- wrong film. Clint Eastwood is a young up-and-coming director next to Lumet.

While we all want to see Daniel Craig and Brad Pitt having sex (either with each other or a woman), its Philip Seymour Hoffman, looking like your neighbor or husband, who is naked, pot-bellied and hairy, plowing into a naked Marisa Tomei (while looking at himself in a full length mirror). Gee, they muse, if only we can stay in Rio forever, we might even do this again.

Older brother Andy (Hoffman) is living way beyond his means as an executive accountant at a real estate company. He’s cooked the books and an outside audit will be conducted in a few days. He’s got a nasty heroin habit as well. I don’t know what his wife Gina (Tomei) does. Maybe she shops all day – except Thursdays when she meets Andy’s younger, and far handsomer, brother Hank (Ethan Hawke).

Hank is behind in his child support payments to his screaming ex-wife and he has indulged his bratty daughter with an expensive private school he cannot afford.

While Hank is just a low-life, Andy knows that he will be going to prison for embezzlement.

Andy has a plan and he enlists Hank to do the dirty work for him. Why not rob that suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store where they both worked long ago? They even know the combination to the safe.

Hank has no choice but to go along with the scheme, especially when Andy hands him $2,000 and tells him that if this can help him, think what $60,000 will do. Andy knows an old, shady 47th Street diamond jeweler who will buy the “hot” jewelry, no questions asked.

But Hank is a coward, so he gets a friend, Bobby (Brian F. O’Byrne), who is a professional criminal, to do the actual robbery. He will commandeer the getaway car. The brother’s mother (Rosemary Harris) turns out to be in the store and not a little, sweet old lady. She gets to the hidden gun and kills Bobby. Bobby fires back.

What a terrific screenplay by Kelly Masterson! How do Andy and Hank get out of this? Hank compounds the problem by lying to Andy. Bobby’s wife knows he want out with Hank and she wants money to keep quiet. They are screwed. While both are responsible, the police have too much other work to do to investigate this seemingly random robbery. So grieving Charles (Albert Finney) starts his own investigation.

Andy and Hank have under-estimated their father’s grief.

The unraveling tale is too fabulous to reveal any more of the plot. If you don’t like the back-and-forth stilted time frame, you might not enjoy BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD. But it works for me. I happen to like seeing sequences out of order. Is reality linear when it involves so many pieces and characters? With everyone having their own perception of facts, reality is never cut, dry, and neatly structured.

While I think Hoffman only did an okay job as Truman Capote for which he won his Best Actor Academy Award (he stole it from Toby Jones, who played Capote in the far superior INFAMOUS), he deserves a nomination here. I am also nominating Albert Finney for a Best Supporting Actor award when we, the Las Vegas Film Critics Society, start our nominating process. Everyone is terrific – let’s once again praise the often not acknowledged casting director – with Tomei’s several nude scenes, Hoffman’s hyper-emotional performance, and Hawke’s wasted misery written on his face. Michael Shannon and Leonard Cimino again contribute outstanding supporting roles.

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