Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead Review
May you be in Heaven for half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.
This sentence flashes on the screen early on in Before the Devil Knows you're Dead letting you know the reason for the title and setting the tone of this bleak but compelling film.
Before the Devil Knows you're Dead examines what seemingly average moral people will do or think of when they see no other way out. This desperation is the driving force that allows two brothers Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) to decide to rob their parent’s jewelry store. As you would expect the robbery doesn't go well. What is left is an unbelievable mess for two brothers already dealing with severe monetary and family problems. Also, created out of the wake of the disaster is a father whose overcoming grief soon turns into a consuming desire for revenge.
This isn't a pleasant film, but is still a very entertaining and well-made one. The audience will be fascinated by what these ill-fated characters will think of and do next. The characters are made even more captivating by the quality of actors playing them. Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Andy, the big husky brother, whose pride will never let him admit when he is beaten. A pride that drives Andy to commit one unbelievably stupid act after another. Mr. Hoffman expertly balances the right amount of sleaze and vulnerability to create a character that the audience is never quite sure if they should root for. Ethan Hawke’s likeable loser, Hank, is never over powered or out matched by Mr. Hoffman’s Andy.
Ethan breathes and walks with desperation as a person who tries so hard to be a good man and father but fails at both. This failure can be attributed to every loveable loser's favorite vices of women and booze. The rest of the key characters are played by Marisa Tomei as Andy’s unhappy wife and Albert Finney as the boy's father who is enraged by the helpless nature of his new situation. All of the actors are superb as they bring believability and humanity to these sad and misguided characters that make one misstep after another.
The story telling style device employed in the film is much like the one found in the film’s of Alejandro González Iñárritu; showing various key events in no particular order. However, the film does put what day the following scenes took place in correlation with the robbery, making this jigsaw puzzle technique more accessible. This technique demands the audience’s attention as it points out that what appears to happen is not always the truth. It reminds the audience not to assume anything about this film or these characters.
Before the Devil knows you’re Dead is a sinking ship. You know what the outcome will be, but you are still enthralled as these pathetic characters frantically look for a way out of their helpless state, and as they just keep burying themselves deeper in their self-created mess.