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Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Amy Ryan, and Albert Finney

director: Sidney Lumet

112 minutes (15) 2007
widescreen ratio 1.85:1
EIV DVD Region 2

RATING: 8/10
review by Alan Kelly

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

This is "as serious as a heart attack" (something Ethan Hawke's character tells his partner-in-crime, in jest, before the terrible consequences of the botched robbery at the start of the movie), and a chilling indictment of humanity and the lengths the individual will go to escape the bondage of their own personal hells. It might be Sidney Lumet's final film, but it is possibly one of the most solid pieces of filmmaking you are likely to see from the director, and this is a film that will throttle you and make you squirm. Extremely uncomfortable to watch, it is a testimony to Sidney Lumet's vision as a director (Network, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon), and newcomer Kelly Masterson's crafty ability as a writer.

Andy and Hank (Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) are brothers who make a decision that seems "simple as a pimple" - to fleece their parents' jewellery store. The decision culminates in the violent death of another family member and leads each character, every one of them clinging to a pathetic unreachable ideal, to their own hellish and unavoidable fate. The film expertly casts the net of human language, catching feelings in image, and conveying a mounting and menacing sense of the sinister infiltrating the boundaries of the everyday world.

Of course, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead will invite comparisons with the vertiginous, at times dizzying narration of 21 Grams, and with Requiem For A Dream in Masterson's use of the family theme. This film, however, surpasses both of the above. It is broken up into small segments, without any neat beginnings or ends. There is a cruel beauty to this film; Albert Finney's grief-stricken father is unremittingly bleak and horrible to watch.

Hoffman is incredible. There is one scene, following a spiteful confession from his wife (Marisa Tomei) where he slowly, methodically destroys his apartment. Hoffman's scenes with Tomei are surprisingly tender, the sort of intense, poetic, and rare glimpses of people at their most passionate and vulnerable that has been lacking in cinema of late.

Hawke's puppyish fool Hank inspires sympathy when you should find him abhorrent. Tomei slinks about in her underwear, looks sensational and gives a terrific performance. Amy Ryan plays Hawke's exasperated wife and is amazing in a small, slightly inconsequential role. It is our flaws that make us interesting and very often beautiful. See this film. It is, in a word, brilliant.



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