“Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead,” review by Susan Granger
Esteemed director Sidney Lumet (Serpico, 12 Angry Men, Network, The Verdict, Q&A) is still going strong at 83, proving it with this insightful, impeccably crafted crime drama that takes its title from the old Irish toast: May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows youre dead.
Beginning with a steamy sex scene between Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his wife Gina (Marisa Tomei), a film noir about two financially pressured brothers emerges.
Andys a shady New York real estate accountant with an expensive drug habit, while his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a none-too-bright, divorced loser who owes child support to his ex-wife. Hanks also having a clandestine affair with Gina.
So when Andy comes up with a plan to heist their parents (Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris) suburban jewelry store, Hank goes along with the idea. But Hank brings along a reckless accomplice (Brian F. OByrne) and the robbery goes dreadfully awry, adding murder and blackmail to the brothers monetary problems.
What makes it so intriguing is that screenwriter Kelly Masterson and director Lumet reveal the family melodrama out of sequence, shifting the audiences perspective onto each of the characters. Utilizing high-definition technology, Lumet, cinematographer Ron Fortunato and editor Tom Swartwout further augment the tension with close-ups and show the same scenes from different viewpoints. Sure, its contrived and there are some loose ends, but the perverse impact is greater than the sum of its parts.
Delivering outstanding performances, Philip Seymour Hoffman dominates anxious Ethan Hawke and vivacious Marisa Tomei, while Albert Finney is subtly menacing. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead is a confident, compelling 9 with the moral undertones of classic Greek tragedy.