It's been quite some time since Sidney Lumet has made a movie with something resembling a pulse, so Before the Devil Knows You're Dead comes as something of a pleasant surprise. Although not in the same league as his Serpico or Dog Day Afternoon, it's still a dark little noir about a botched heist with some crackerjack moments.
At the center of the movie are two very disparate brothers: Hank (Ethan Hawke) is a complete loser who can't make child support payments to his ex-wife, while Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a corporate executive with a predilection for drugs and some shady business practices. His vivacious wife (Marisa Tomei) is sleeping with both of them. The brothers hatch a plan to rob their family's tiny jewelry store to rescue them from their woes, but the heist doesn't go as planned, and the siblings’ problems get much worse.
What's most refreshing about Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is that Lumet energizes the material by continually shifting the audience’s perspective on the characters. He accomplishes this by telling the story out of sequence so that we come to a gradual understanding of the quandary to come.
Hoffman gives a sharply etched performance as a control freak who slowly starts to unravel. Tomei also adds some sensual warmth despite her little screen time. Only Hawke flounders in sweat and desperation in a part that resembles Billy Bob Thornton's ill-fated brother in A Simple Plan. Hawke tries to burrow inside Hank's culminating anxieties, but his performance becomes nothing more than a catalogue of tics. Albert Finney is a quiet menacing presence, though, and he gets the last word in the fiendishly entertaining story.
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney and
Director: Sidney Lumet
Screenwriter: Kelly Masterson
Producers: Michael Cerenzie, Brian Linse, Paul Parmar and William S. Gilmore
Rating: R for a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language
Running time: 123 min.
Release date: October 26, 2007 NY, November 2 exp.