Before The Devil Knows Your Dead


Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by:Kelly Masterson
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Rosemary Harris
Released: March 20, 2008
Grade: A-

Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Hawke) are two brothers with money problems.  Andy is the payroll clerk at a large real estate agency and has been stealing cash to fuel his drug addiction.  He has just learned that the business is to be audited by the IRS and that if they find that money missing, he’ll be in huge trouble.

Hank works at the same real estate agency.  I guess it’s not a high paying position as he owes a substantial amount to his ex-wife for rent and child support.  It seems that every day, his ex-wife (who lives in the same apartment building) is nagging him for the cash.

Andy comes up with a hair-brained scheme to solve their financial dilemmas.  Their elderly parents (played by Finney and Harris) own a small jewellery store in a shopping complex.  They plan to rob the store, sell the jewels and make out with roughly $600,000.  Andy justifies the crime by saying that the insurance policy will cover his parents’ losses.

It’s a stupid plan and neither has the courage to go through with it.  Andy comes up with a lame excuse to avoid involvement in the actual theft.  He says that he was involved in a recent real estate deal in the area and that someone might recognise him.  He wants Hank to do it alone.  Hank doesn’t think he has the guts to pull it off and so asks a dodgy friend named Bobby to help out.  Hank will drive the get away car while Bobby performs the robbery.

As you can expect, it all goes terribly wrong for Andy and Hank.  It turns out that their mother, Nanette, is the only one working in the store on the morning of the crime.  She is filling in for someone.  As Bobby prepares to leave the store with his stolen back of jewels, Nanette takes a gun from under the cash register and shoots him.  He then responds by shooting Nanette.

The tagline from the film’s poster says it all – “no one was supposed to get hurt”.  This was meant to be a quick and easy grab for cash.  Andy has already lined up a crooked dealer to help offload the stolen jewels.  Now they’re in a position where their mother is in hospital fighting for her life, a trail of evidence threatens to expose them and oh yes, their money problems are even bigger.  What are they going to do?

My friend described this film best when he used the term “depressing”.  It’s the perfect word.  This is a grim story for which there cannot be a happy ending.  You aren’t going to leave the cinema with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

It’s still a great movie though.  The reason it is so depressing is because it is so believable.  I could see this kind of thing happening.  This isn’t like your normal heist flick where every detail has been carefully planned and some incredible detective puts all the pieces together to solve the crime.  Andy and Hank are just two stupid guys doing some really stupid things to get their lives back on track.  I almost felt sorry for them.

Academy Award winning director Sidney Lumet (12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network) is 83 years of age.  You’d think he’d want to sit back and enjoy his retirement.  I guess he just loves making movies.  He’s done a great job here and I do like the film’s style.  We start by seeing the crime itself and then we take flashbacks to see how it came about.  It’s creative storytelling.

Before The Devil Knows Your Dead received a terrific response from the public and from critics when it premiered at last year’s Toronto Film Festival.  The fact that it’s a small, low-budget film saw it get lost amongst the bigger releases during the recent awards season.  I like the movie and I like the title.