There are movies that are familial train wrecks. There are movies like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf that are deaths by 10,000 cuts. However, I have never before seen such a devastating wreck as Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, a masterpiece created by the 83 year-old genius director, Sydney Lumet.
This movie was not only a train wreck, but the wreck was on fire and hurtling down a cliff. Yes, just imagine that. As horrible as this imagined scenario was, you just cannot begin to absorb the scope of this movie. It was much, much more. The dysfunction that this movie family portrayed cannot quite be articulated in a mere review. I will not pull any punches here. This movie sucked the breath from my body. O.K. I’ve tried to come down a little. Let’s talk about this splendid film.
First, if you have not seen the movie, you may want to stop reading right now. I will have a minimum of spoilers, hopefully limited to what is revealed right away in this non-linear film. Unfortunately, the great movie is not available for streaming on Netflix. You can pick up a used DVD at Amazon for under two dollars The movie starts with a harrowing flash-forward, so you get a hint of what you are in for.
Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead is the story of two brothers, both with serious financial problems. Andy (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) is a top executive in a Real Estate firm, but had a young, trophy wife (Marisa Tomei) to satisfy, and even a more demanding heroin/cocaine addiction that must be fed. His younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) was a jerking wreck of a human being and a raging alcoholic who has fallen further and further behind in his child support. His ex-wife Martha (Amy Ryan) was a vicious and unforgiving shrew, who gleefully set Hank up for more desperation by using their young daughter as a club to just set him up for more failure.
Both men are desperate, so Andy hatched a “win-win” plan to hold up a Mom-N-Pop Jewelry store, and net about $60,000 apiece from the robbery. They planned to use only toy guns so there was no chance of violence. Insurance would cover the losses, so no one will really be hurt. There was just one problem. The store that they were going to heist was owned by their parents. It was an easy target, because they knew the place inside and out. It was also risk-free as they would hit it on the weekend and their parents would not even be there. What could possibly go wrong? The answer? EVERYTHING.
The acting in this movie was sublime. It was so great, and the characters so beyond redemption, that you, as a viewer did not get invested with their survival. I’m not kidding, you really don’t care. Viewing this movie, you only care about the next page, and every subsequent page is just to die for. The drain is circled, and into the pits of Hell. Don’t look for any happy ending or redemption here, it’s all BAD, and that is about all I’m going to say.
I thought I had reached the bottom of the Pits Of Hell when I watched and reviewed Villenue’s Prisoners, but that masterpiece has nothing on this piece of work. Oh, and I have barely mentioned Albert Finney’s tour de force of acting in this movie. I know, I’ve said too much. Just watch it. Oh, and I didn’t even say anything about Michael Shannon! What a cameo at the end! Sidney Lumet…at 83 creates another masterpiece. This is the guy who brought us Network and The Verdict with Paul Newman. To see what happens, you just have to see the movie…and Now.
Special Ruthless Ratings
- Acting- 10.00/10.00 It never gets much better than this
- Writing-10.0/10.0 Just magnificent
- Non-Linear Pacing-Perfect 10.0/10.0
- The number of times I felt sorry for any character- Zero, all scumbags
- But what about the poor little daughter? Her, too.
- Was this probably the most Ruthless movie made this century- Yes!
- Did Albert Finney redeem himself from the awful Big Fish – Yes x100
- Was the incredibly HOT Marisa Tomei totally naked during half of the film? -Yes!
- Was this Hoffman’s best performance ever? Yes!
- How about Ethan Hawke? Hell Yes!
Rating 10.0/10.0 with the Goatesians Seal of Approval for Excellence and Ruthlessness