Review: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Directed by: Sidney Lumet | 117 minutes | drama, thriller, crime | Actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino, Michael Shannon, Amy Ryan, Brian F. O’Byrne

Sidney Lumet received an Honorary Award from the Gentlemen of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2005 for his total body of work. The eighty-year-old director has never received an Oscar in his career for his films, although he was nominated no less than five times, the first time for classic ’12 Angry Men’ in 1958, the last time for ‘The Verdict’. in 1982. After ‘The Verdict’ Lumet’s career didn’t go so well, it seemed as if he had lost the trick. Previously, his films were almost already classics, with films like ‘Family Business’ and ‘Gloria’, to name a few, he was nowhere near the level of his earlier masterpieces.

The fact is that the filmmaker managed to collect an interesting cast for every production. Lumet is therefore a real actor director, he knows how to bring out the best in his cast. This also applies to ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’, a film that shows something of Lumet’s past class. An intriguing roster of actors goes to extremes in the film, Philip Seymour Hoffman once again works wonders with his role as Andy, the double-layered businessman with a serious addiction and a bad marriage (with Marisa Tomei).

In the opening scene, which differs in effect from the rest of the film, we see the couple having sex in a hotel room in a violent – and for the actors daring – way. Afterwards they sigh that it must be Rio’s fault. When the viewer has barely recovered from the rather surprising combination of Tomei and Hoffman as a married couple for years, the next scene is already underway: a robbery of a small jewelry store that goes completely wrong. What follows is a reconstruction using a flashback method already used in films: the story is retold from certain, not even crucial, moments through the eyes of another character in the film. In this film, it’s a superfluous artifice that unnecessarily takes away from the film’s momentum and feels more like a style exercise than it gives the film any value.

Ethan Hawke also convincingly plays Hank, Andy’s brother. His character is divorced, always broke and because he is several months behind with the alimony for his daughter, and his ex-wife would prefer to put him behind bars, his money is a torment. His brother, who works in the same company, but is a bit higher on the social ladder, offers a way out. Thanks to Hank’s reaction and hesitation to his brother’s grotesque plan, the viewer’s sympathy is already definitive with Hank, but on the other hand, the fascination for Andy is greater. His motivation remains a mystery that is difficult to get to grips with.

Unfortunately, Gina (Marisa Tomei) with her often naked body only acts as wallpaper, her character could have had some depth. Although the reunion between Lumet and Albert Finney was a pleasant one for both (the two worked together on ‘Murder on the Orient Express’), the result of this collaboration is disappointing. Finney can’t convince anyone as the father of the two deeply troubled brothers. The film is slow at times, showing the events that are now known again and again also influences this, although it gradually becomes clearer how the fork is in the stem. There are also a number of irritating illogicalities and sloppiness in the scenario, which means that the story loses quite a bit of power. Too bad, but given that this is Kelly Masterson’s first script, it can be explained.

In ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ the characters often cross the line, which makes identification difficult. A drug addiction is not enough, an extramarital relationship must also be added and a murder more or less does not matter. A better edited script and a shorter running time would have made ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ a rock solid film. Unfortunately, it has now remained at a milder variant of what the master once accomplished.

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