Before The Devil Know's You're Dead
Things fall apart, as any student of crime will tell you. And if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has a plan. He's in accounts, and he's been embezzling funds to feed his coke habit and keep his pretty wife happy, but he knows he can't go on indefinitely. What he doesn't know, is Gina (Marisa Tomei) has been two-timing him with his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke). If he had an inkling, Andy might have laid it out differently. Or maybe not.
Hank needs money too, for alimony, and child support, what have you. So when his big brother comes to him with a plan, he listens. His first reaction is no way, but circumstances conspire, and Andy is not one to take no for an answer. He's roped in before he even knows what's what.
What's what is this: Andy proposes a jewelry robbery, a smash and grab. But not some big city store with all the security and the noise. A little store in a suburban mall is all they need. Somewhere they can be in and out in minutes, and it's all over. A mom and pop's joint; like mom and pop's. Think about it: they know the place. They know how it's guarded. And the beauty of it, there's no victim. The jewelry is covered on the insurance.
Hank lends an ear and long story short, it's game on. That rumbling you hear in the distance? That's the Almighty beginning to giggle.
The first screenplay by playwright Kelly Masterson, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is straight crime melodrama in the classic film noir tradition.
It's jazzed up with an unnecessarily tricksy Tarantino-style chronology, but the joy of the thing is in seeing the house of cards go up, and then seeing the walls come tumbling down.
Director Sidney Lumet was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the Oscars in 2005. He's 83, but he's shot this baby with the vigor and concentration of his best work.
If you like movies at all then chances are you will have enjoyed some Lumet pictures: Dog Day Afternoon; Q&A; Network; Prince Of The City; Serpico; The Verdict; Running On Empty; 12 Angry Men. When he's on his game, Lumet really hits it. But if the script isn't there he swipes just as hard and can end up looking ridiculous (Gloria; Critical Care; A Stranger Among Us, to name just three fairly recent examples.)
Masterson's screenplay doesn't have the ambition or the political dimension of Lumet's best work, but it's a well tooled piece of engineering, and each of the ten or so significant speaking parts adds another volley to the fusillade of trouble that rains down on our not so gallant anti-heroes. Better yet, the plotting all flows from the psychological fault lines running through the family, from Albert Finney as Andy and Hank's father on down. Apparently it was Lumet who suggested the conspirators should be siblings, and if so, it was a masterstroke.
Hawke is perfectly cast as the weak-willed younger brother, who seems to acquiesce in the scheme in order to get his daughter on an expensive school trip to see "The Lion King". Hoffman suggests not just the moral vacancy of his position, but the anguished sense of inadequacy that must have brought him to it. Smaller contributions from the likes of Michael Shannon and Amy Ryan are scarcely less vivid.
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