Movie Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

By Moira Sullivan
Movie Magazine International

The director is the 83-year-old Sidney Lumet, with films like Serpico, Equus, Dog Day Afternoon and The Group all behind him. All disturbing films. Add Before The Devil Knows Youíre Dead. Another disturbing film.
The story of a robbery gone wrong could just as well be Dog Day Afternoon. Now how wrong was that robbery? But this is another kind of robbery entirely, the kind with nothing really to risk and no one to hurt because itís a piece of cake. But crime never seems to work out under such premises. In this case itís a family job and the family robbery reveals all the skeletons in the closet, and these flaws contribute to the bungling. There are two brothers. Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. Andy and Hank Hanson. Andyís life is screwed up and so is Hanks and both have serious financial worries and marital problems. Their parents are Charles and Nanette Hanson, who own a jewelry story played by the brilliant Albert Finney and the excellent Rosemary Harris.
The story of the robbery is told through non-linear episodes.It breaks up the narrative dependence on building momentum and teases us by drawing out the story from several angles and perspectives. But sometimes there is not enough depth to sustain this. Probably the most serious flaw in the film is the total misuse of Academy Award winning actress Marisa Tomei as Gina Hanson who is stuck in a fluff role with nowhere to go. She plays the wife of Andy and the mistress of Hank and the tradeoff adds nothing to the film other than confirming how totally screwed up the two brothers have become. The opening sex scene with Tomei and Hoffman which is not only raw but brutal is just one of the many assaults on the spectator. My guess is that Mr. Lumet wants to shock and to disturb as usual. He has succeeded in both. Narrative inversions have been done in film before, most notably in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. But whereas in that film you had to assemble pieces that were not all together self evident. But in the Before the Devil Knows You're There, there is much that is clear. I believe it has one true benefit, it allows us to sink deeper into a sad dysfunctional and toxic shame based family, which spirals deeper into despair. There are no simple solutions for the problems these two brothers face and their parents because there is a canyon of self-alienation and a lack of intelligence that is always in the way.
When patriarch Charles Hansen tries to solve the robbery he is led into his own personal torture chamber and never seems to get it that his own way of raising his two sons is part of the mystery he desperately tries to solve.

For Movie Magazine this is Moira Sullivan, Stockholm SWEDEN
More Information:
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
USA/UK - 2007