Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead: Review

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Sometimes it’s a good thing to watch a movie without any indication of what’s to come.  I didn’t do any research.  I didn’t even realize that Philip Seymour Hoffman was in the film.  I just kinda put it in my Netflix queue.  Watching the trailer would have probably ruined my experience.  And in that same spirit, this is probably going to be a different review in that I don’t want to reveal too much about the film.  Just know this: 1) It’s not for kids – even if kids are in the vicinity of where the film is being played, 2) It has incredible acting, and 3) It will depress you beyond belief.

This film isn’t short on big names – Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei and Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, Network and countless other gems) directs.  All of the actors – big parts and small parts – turn in incredible performances.  Of particular note is, of course, Hoffman.  It’s ridiculous how passionate this guy is… how he conveys volumes with no words.  But the other actors turn in great performances as well. 

The film reminds me of something Quentin Tarantino might have written and directed.  However, unlike a Tarantino film, this one is devoid of all fun.  That’s not to say this is a bad film.  Much to the contrary.  This is an interesting, visceral, complicated and difficult film.  The most I’ll say about the plot is that you have two somewhat average brothers who, through poor decisions and just a bad deal in life, are in a bad place.  So, they end up making more bad decisions.  And the further we go, the messier things get.

While this film isn’t particularly bloody or sensational, what made it so gripping was how real these situations could be.  New York was used as the backdrop, so I guess that made it that much more authentic to me.  But the situations that these characters find themselves in made me stop and wonder how I might handle them.  The film is the thread hanging from your jacket…and as you grab it to yank and break it, you realize that yanking it has only created a bigger piece of thread…and now you’re in too deep to go get a pair of scissors…so you yank harder… and before you realize it, half of your sleeve is gone.

If you’re in the least bit of a slump in life, maybe this one isn’t for you.  I watched this on July 4 – I had the day off, life felt pretty good.  And by the time it was done, I was walking around wondering why my life had so many loose threads.  No, it isn’t very self-revealing.  These are very odd situations and unless you really live on the edge, I’m sure you won’t be able to relate.  But there’s so much tension that by the time you’re done, you really have to go find your happy place.  It’s depressing as hell.

But as much as I felt depressed after watching the film, I must say that in this age of films that are little more than an extended version of the trailer, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is completely unpredictable.  I found that two hour runtime went by in what felt like an hour and a half, because I couldn’t tell quite where things were headed.  But just trust Sidney Lumet.  He knows where he’s taking you.

I don’t often talk about a film’s score (particularly a film of this kind), but it’s worth mentioning that the theme that plays throughout the film is extremely chilling.  It’s disturbing.  It sets the stage quite wonderfully for this completely atypical experience.

To say, “I enjoyed this film” would be almost morbid.  I decided to tolerate the film and I’m pretty happy that I made that decision.  This is certainly not a film I’d own.  But I do encourage anyone who’s up for a different experience and who doesn’t mind a bit of violence and complex adult situations on-screen to check this one out.  Probably the best acted film I’ve seen all year.  (In a year of countless super hero movies, that isn’t saying much, but you get the idea.)


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