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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

December 17, 2009

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead made me realize something: either there’s still hope that film can continue to be in-depth, engaging, and shocking or that only veteran directors know how to make a truly great film. I wouldn’t go as far as to call this film perfect, but everything about it just works; the style of directing and editing, the cold fluorescent cinematography, and most impressive of all, the acting. Philip Seymour Hoffman has always made an impression on me since his portrayal of an awkward sexual deviant in Happiness and since then every performance I’ve seen of him has always blown me away. However his portrayal of Andy Hanson is hands down his absolute best and dare I say, one of the best on screen performances in years.

Writer Kelly Matherson creates a story around a robbery gone wrong and the family who find themselves involved in it. While the film resembles the typical outline of heist gone wrong seen from The Asphalt Jungle to Dog Day Afternoon, it’s the character study of the people involved in Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead that makes it incredibly in-depth and impressive. Director Sidney Lumet (also director of Dog Day Afternoon) reminds the world why he’s one of the most affluent and memorable directors of our time as he employs a Memento-esque non-linear style of narration to unravel the mysteries of who is involved in the heist and why, as each character is pushed to their moral limits with each new finding. Lumet tells the story from literally every different side possible as the scenes are rewound and told from different perspectives including various camera angles.

And that’s really all I can say plot wise. Being in the moment and discovering what each character discovers is the best experience of this film and what makes it so fascinating. Each character is put into situations which cause them to do unthinkable and awful acts, acts that a character should be despised for. However throughout the entire film I couldn’t bring myself to hate or dislike any character regardless of the sins they commit. Each person is given a layer so deep that it begs the audience to empathize and literally put themselves into their situation– and it broke my heart when I did.

Ethan Hawke’s portrayal of Hank Hanson, a family’s youngest son who is desperate to make his daughter happy but finds himself in debt is heartbreaking to watch. Hawke comes off as the perfect everyman. Just a regular Joe doing his best to get by but circumstance and chance gets in his way. Hawke is fantastic and believable but Hoffman, who plays his drug addicted CEO brother, is the highlight of the film. He could have easily done an over-the-top melodramatic performance but Hoffman instead pulled out the punches at just the right moments and knew how to suppress himself when necessary and at times I was utterly breathless watching him.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is an incredible film. So incredible that over 20 prominent film critics added it to their list of “Best Films of 2007.” I even remember all my film friends raving about how great it was when it came out. Therefore I find its snub at the 2007 Oscars disgusting and even more so infuriating that the most over-hyped film of all time and epitome of melodramatic, There Will Be Blood, was nominated for Best Picture instead. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is the type of film that I can’t imagine anyone disliking, you may think its alright but you can’t possibly hate it.

SEE IT. Soon.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 5, 2010 1:15 PM

    >I love this movie. Albert Finney rules, it's always great to see him still kicking about. I love There Will Be Blood more though… sorry!

  2. January 7, 2010 7:47 PM

    >Haha it's not a problem, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm one of the few who hates that movie. But thanks for the comment and I agree Albert's amazing!

  3. January 8, 2010 4:43 AM

    >Lovely movie. My top 3 of the year Atonement, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly and this stunning film. Ethan Hawke was just superb, as was the entire cast.


  1. RIP Philip Seymour Hoffman | The Cinephiliac

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