Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Dir. Sidney Lumet
Starring: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, etc.

I have a hard time thinking of specific idiots I can recommend this to: Chris, Penny, Kevin, Mitchell, Grace, John come to mind first. I can say that I think the film will hold the attention of almost everyone. I’ll give a little more information in the next section that will help determine if you would want to see this. The film received an 84 from metacritic, and I think for the craft alone the film deserves that rating. My score is a bit lower because of personal preferences and some problems I had with the film.

This movie deserves more attention (I don’t think it played in Hawaii.) This is a good film and good filmmaking, and I think most of you would agree. I know that some of you may not really love the film, but if good filmmaking–writing, direction, camera work, acting, etc.–alone make a film worth watching, then I would strongly recommend this film to you. Btw, this is not an arthouse/independent film. It’s a well-made mainstream film that will hold attention from the first shot to the last.

I like many of Lumet’s films (Network and The Verdict to name a few) and with the cast and positive critical feedback, I was interested in this film. But my impression of the film’s storyline–the main characters do something bad and spend the entire film covering it up and/or betraying people in the process–held me back. I have an aversion to watching films like that because I find them stressful, and I don’t like not being able to fully support the main characters. (In some of these films, I’m rooting for them to confess and turn themselves in.) I’m thinking of films like Goodfellas, Fargo, A Simple Plan and Double Indemnity. On some level, I don’t enjoy watching these films, but they do a good job of sucking me in and holding my attention. I’m pretty sure Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead will do this for all of you.

What I want to emphasize is the quality of the script and direction, both worthy of Academy nominations at least, which it didn’t receive. The film is better than several of the nominees that year (Michael Clayton, Juno, There Will Be Blood). In terms of direction, I think Lumet’s job was right up there with the Coen Brothers. It really fell through the cracks. This is really good storytelling, and the acting is also good. (Hawke, Tomei and even Hoffman deserving of nominations; I haven’t seen many Ethan Hawke performances, but he’s starting to impress me.) The story involves two brothers, Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Hawke) Hansen, who concoct a “full-proof” plan to rob a jewelry store out of a desperate need for money. As expected things don’t go as planned.

What makes the film so good is the way the filmmakers decide to tell the story using a series of flashbacks reminiscent of Tarantino films and even Memento. In the commentary, Hoffman talks about the illusion that the flashbacks are scenes the audiences have seen before, but they’re really not; Lumet shoots the flashbacks from a different camera angles and from different character perspectives (almost in a Rashomon fashion). I loved the way the film was put together. This film will excite younger movie fans who like Tarantino and Innaritu’s rearranging of time.

The other thing I liked was the family melodrama aspects of the film. I only wished that the filmmakers made it a more integral part of the film, establishing and developing the relationships earlier. The scene between Andy, the oldest son, and his father (Finney) that happen at the end of the film, seemed to come out of nowhere. In the original screenplay, Andy and Hank weren’t brothers, but Lumet changed that. I think this was a good move, but it also might explain why the family melodrama didn’t feel completely organic.

This may also explain the ending felt a little flat for me. I didn’t have a problem with the bleakness, but it just didn’t felt like the film established the relationship enough for the ending to have the tragic impact that it should have.

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