Before the Devil Knows You're Dead One of the Most Under Appreciated Films Ever.
A random review that comes completely out of left field but with the very odd Oscars just behind and the recent passing of Albert Finney - an underappreciated actor in his own right, I thought I would take the time to review/gush over a film that I feel is the biggest “sleeper” film I can think of.
Before the Devil You’re Dead was released in 2007. Directed by Sidney Lumet (his last released film prior to his death in 2011 unfortunately) and was written by Kelly Masterson (Snowpiercer). With a murders row of a cast that includes the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Michael Shannon and the mentioned Albert Finney.
The plot of the story is about two brothers Andy (Hoffman) and Hank (Hawke) who are both down on their luck and in desperate need for cash. Andy is a successful Real Estate accountant, the problem is he’s addicted to heroin and hes been fixing the books and skimming from his company to get his fix. Hank is hard up for cash and needs money in order to pay his recently divorced wife in order to see his kid. Andy comes up with the perfect crime, rob a jewelry store; no guns no violence and nobody gets hurt. The twist, the jewelry store belongs to their parents - they know all the ins and outs of the store and it will be easy pickings, just hire a guy to do the job and everyone gets a cut.
******Spoiler Alert****** It goes terribly wrong when the hired thug panics and fatally shoots the sales person during the robbery. Making matters much worse is it’s their own mother who had to come in that day to work and the brothers have to face the fact that they are responsible for the killing of their own mom.
Hoffman gives a stellar performance; portraying a man who is spiraling out of control, making terrible decisions throughout the film in the hopes of getting out of this mess he created. At second viewing its somewhat painful to watch this great actor play a heroin addict, now knowing his real life struggles with the very same substance that ultimately caused his all too early demise. Hawke plays the more likeable/relatable character of the two, he is far more stricken with grief and far less unhinged and the seasoned actor really does an outstanding job especially when you consider he’s in the ring with a legend in Hoffman and really pulls his weight. In fact all the performances are really good. Marisa Tomei plays Hoffman’s “love” interest, pulling off a great semi detached, somewhat cold character. Albert Finney adds another stellar performance to his long accomplished career. As Charles the Father of the two near do well sons, Finney shows great range, illistrating anguish, grief and than eventually rage and is a definite scene stealer.
Before the Devil Knows You’re the Dead has an IMDB rating of 7.3, an 84 metscore and an 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes….. not too shabby and probably a fair assessment, however I rate this film higher and truly believe it’s one of the most underrated films Ive come across. Obviously it’s just one persons opinion and there are so many classic films I’ve yet to see, let alone other unsung films but I just remember seeing this movie in 2009 and being blown away at how good it was and shocked that I could only vaguely remember even hearing about it when it was released. Maybe that’s why the film has been one of my personal favourites, I saw it with zero expectations? Yet after seeing it again last week it got me thinking about all the luck and timing that’s at play for a non blockbuster film to get recognition and make the cut for award season.
To Be fair though the 80th annual Academy Awards year (honoring the films from 2007) was one of the stronger years for the 2000’s with No Country For Old Men taking home best picture, Daniel Day Lewis earning his second best actor award for There Will Be Blood, Tilda Swinton and Javier Bardem both taking the best supporting Oscasr’s for Michael Clayton and No Country respectively, as well as one of the more tighter races for best director with the Cohen brothers taking home the gold in a pool with Paul Thomas Anderson, Jason Reitman, Tony Gilroy and Julian Schnbal. I would personally of liked Sydney Lumet to be included in that field as I found this movie was his best work in some time, a showcase that the veteran director still had it. Just going to take a moment to bring up Mr. Lumet’s great run in the 1970’s - Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico and Network, seriously how impressive is that, considering those four films where all released in a four year period (1974-1976). Hoffman was nominated that same year for best supporting actor in Charlie Wilson’s War - I found his performance superior in Before the Devil but I assume it’s more of a lead actors role and considering that years nominee list it would be hard to argue him in as a nominee although I would contest it’s one of his five best performances I have seen from the legendary actor. Mastersons’ script was most certainly over looked from the academy - Diablo Cody won best original screenplay for Juno, but Lars and the Real Girl was nominated and I feel there was definite room to bump that off for Before the Devil Knows. Full of twists and turns, dark and original but I suppose if this film garnered award nods it wouldn’t be an under appreciated film.
With great performances from a fabulous cast, an original story that’s dark and twisted and well paced from a legendary director this film checks off all the boxes for me personally. I enjoyed it as much as the first time viewing it when I had zero expectations. I absolutely recommend this underrated gem of a movie.
Score: 8.5 out of 10