Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

2007, Movie, R, 117 mins


Straight out of the "best-laid plans" school of film noir, Sidney Lumet's no-frills, late-career entry into the genre is as dark, fatalistic and hard-bitten as the real deal.

It all begins with a simple plot, a theoretically victimless crime in which no one could possibly get hurt. And the motive, as always, is money. Payroll manager Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his brother Hank (a surprisingly good Ethan Hawke) work for the same Manhattan real-estate firm, and it's probably only through Andy's beneficence that Hank has a job at all. Hank is a classic screwup: divorced, three months behind on his child-support payments, and up to his ears in debt. He's also sleeping with Andy's wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei). Andy, meanwhile, may look as though he has his act together — six-figure salary, slicked-back hair, pressed suits, window office — but he's a secret junkie who nods away the cocktail hour in an upscale shooting gallery in a midtown high rise. Andy has been dipping into the company coffers to fund his secret habit, stealing petty cash and drawing paychecks for terminated employees, and now he needs to pay it all back, fast: His department is about to be audited. So Andy concocts a plan to knock over a little mom-and-pop jewelry store in a nondescript, suburban Westchester strip mall, the catch being that the shop is actually owned by Andy and Hank's own mom (Rosemary Harris) and pop (Albert Finney). According to Andy, it's a foolproof plan. Hank and Andy both worked at the store when they were young, so they're familiar with the entire layout, and they know the only person working on Saturday mornings is elderly Doris, who isn't about to put up a fight. Hank will go in the moment the store opens, wave around a toy gun and clean the place out. The insurance company will cover the losses, so no one really loses. Hank very reluctantly agrees, but makes the first of several fatal mistakes when he hires a thug named Bobby (Brian F. O'Byrne) to help him pull it off. And Bobby brings along a very real gun.

"The world is an evil place," a seedy diamond fence tells Hank and Andy's father after his sons' plan has spun so far out of control it threatens the entire family. "Some people make money off of it and others are destroyed by it." The true star of this nerve-racking family crime drama, shot with a minimum of fuss by Ron Fortunato, is playwright and first-time screenwriter Kelly Masterson's deft script, which carefully develops each fatally flawed character and tells their stories in achronological flashbacks that seamlessly fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Masterson's dialogue positively drips with the kind of bitter world weariness that only comes from a lifetime of disappointment, family dysfunction and regret. Hank and Gina's pillow-talk exchange, in which Hank plaintively sums up his disastrous life so far with a simple "I want more" and gets a cold "Well, so does Oliver Twist" in return is surely bound for some future volume of Film Noir's Greatest Quotes. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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