Before we start I just want to say that this movie has a special undertone as it’s Sidney Lumet’s last. Sadly, the guy who brought us such classics as 12 Angry Men, Serpico, and Dog Day Afternoon is no longer with us. Oddly enough, the title of this movie comes from an old Irish saying: “May you be in heaven a full half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead”. May you be sir, may you be. Featuring non-linear storytelling, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a great thriller definitely worth watching. It follows two brothers who decide to rob their parent’s jewelry store. They know all the ins and outs of the store, the insurance will cover the losses and everyone is a winner.
However, we all know that life just doesn’t work like that. As the old saying goes: Life is a bitch and then you die. And I want to make something perfectly clear right away. In other, similar movies, there’s usually a humorous and even silly undercurrent defusing the harsh reality of the events unfolding before our eyes. Here, you’ll find none of that. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is unapologetically realistic, offering a gripping character study with a psychological twist. So, the fact that this is one of the best movies of the year 2007 comes as no surprise.
I mean, you just need to look at the cast and you’ll know you’re in for a treat. A treat with a cherry on top. We open with a pretty graphic featuring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Marisa Tomei. Tomei will spend most of the movie nude or half-nude while Hoffman will be doing his thing along with Ethan Hawke. Apart from them, we’ve also got Albert Finney and Michael Shannon. Philip Seymour Hoffman struggled with addiction when he was younger, using all kinds of drugs, including heroin. Luckily, he’s been clean for seventeen years now. I think his experience with drugs gave him a unique talent to portray these eccentric characters who are often abusing drugs themselves.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of non-linear storytelling but Lumet is such a good director that I actually liked it in this movie. It adds to the story as you sometimes first get the answer and then the question and sometimes it’s the other way around. It also shows some scenes from different perspectives enabling you to fully absorb them. And these are complex characters we will be following so each angle represents another layer of their personality. However, I don’t want you to think that this is a boring movie where you need to think a lot.
You can do that but if you want to stay on the surface watching this bizarrely macabre set of events unfold without much thought, you can do that as well. I want to compare it to Fargo but that was a much funnier movie. Although I did laugh a couple of times here just because of the sheer absurdity of the twists. And these twists are just so fucking realistic. It’s like when they happen you’re thinking of course that had to go that way. Or of course, he’s that type of a guy. Everything seems to be in its place.
Director: Sidney Lumet
Writer: Kelly Masterson
Cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei, Michael Shannon
Fun Facts: Both Hawke and Hoffman are real-time friends of Marisa Tomei.