Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Want something to make you happy? Don’t watch this.

The perfect crime goes horribly wrong for brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank (Ethan Hawke) when they botch a robbery of their parents’ jewelry store, and hurls them towards a shattering climax.

Director Sidney Lumet (R.I.P), was in the game for about 50 years and before he went away with the sky, he let this little piece of happiness behind him. He can be glad to say that this was a happy swan song.

Lumet tells this film in a non-linear format and even showing different view-points for all these characters and it works so well because it shows us what is really going on with these characters and why everybody is just so damn sinister. Everything here is just basically pitch-black with the story diving deeper and deeper into places that would have Darth Vader backing up.

What I liked most about this film was the story and how it is a heist-gone-wrong film but also a character study about a messed up family. You never fully understand how all of these characters were before all this crazy ish went down, but you see the true emotions come out when tragic things do happen and how people constantly do mean and just plain harsh things to one another. This film shows problems within a family, as well as keeping the tension going so no matter how weak some of the family stuff may be for most viewers, there is still a lot to fall-back on.

My problem with the film was that this was so damn dark to a point of where I was just wondering why the hell wasn’t there any happiness whatsoever. I mean the first scene which is basically Tomei and Hoffman doing the doggy-style is probably the happiest moment in the whole film because their just getting it on, and at least pleasured. I mean this film is a downer, and I just don’t know why it had to be so terribly dark and depressing other than just to be that. I mean come on, not even a Knock-knock joke or anything.

Another problem is that this film isn’t really for everybody. I watched this with my good friend Pete and he likes any films but he just couldn’t handle all the slowness and the dark feeling of this material. I don’t blame him since I obviously had some problems with all this damn darkness but to say the least, it’s not for everyone and if you’re contemplating killing yourself, this is not the film to watch.

The cast is also pretty amazing as well. Ethan Hawke nails it as Hank Hanson (HH) because his character is this kind of mopey, scared, little soft kind of a person the whole film so when the ish hits the fan, Hawke’s character gets pretty crazy and paranoid, which is what Hawke does well and the things that he does are not only believable but genuine too and some of the best acting Hawke has done. Marisa Tomei is nakey almost in every scene but that doesn’t take away from her scenes as Gina; Albert Finney is great as the tough-edged father; and Michael Shannon is here for a bit as this creepy and pretty intimidating dude named Dex.

The real showcase of the whole cast is none other than Philip Seymour Hoffman as Andy Hanson, and probably gives one of his most evil performances to date. His character is probably the most morally corrupt of the whole bunch and right from the get-go, he lets you know that he is just not effin’ around at all. He yells a lot, which he usually always does in films, but a lot of the raw emotions he shows here seem natural and show Hoffman’s true talents as an actor that can seemingly be so terribly unlikable, but still a guy you can’t take your eyes off of the whole time. Damn I wish this guy was The Penguin!

Consensus: It’s definitely not for everybody, and is extremely dark and depressing, but Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a compelling tale of dysfunctional families, corrupt people, and moments that just go from bad to worse that is masterfully acted and directed from all of the talent involved.



  1. A true masterpiece and it’s no accident the kids in the play are staging Shakespeare’s KING LEAR since this is a family tragedy par excellence; P.S. Hoffman is deliciously evil, Hawke his nitwit brother and an early Michael Shannon. Amazing cast, true wickedness! Glad you reminded us of this last great one from S. Lumet.

    • Bravo, Colin! Nice to see that someone caught the LEAR reference. I was amazed that virtually no one who wrote about the film noticed it. Thanks to the reviewer as well. It is a lot of darkness and evil to ask an audience to process, but we always felt it would be worth it.

  2. Glad to see you liked it, Dan, I love this one.

    You could have bumped that score a little though… Cmon… From the write up, I know you really wanna give it at least an 8! No? Cmon…

      • I’m a wordpress blogger I know the drill…. you just edit that right up there… delete these comments… no one would ever know…..

        (Slow chant) 8, 8, 8, 8…


        I’m just messin’ with you buddy. Nice write up. 😀

  3. I remember loving this a few years back. Thanks for reminding me, I should definitely revisit it. Great review, Dan

  4. I couldn’t agree more with you in the fact that this is about so much more that a heist gone awry.

    I understand your point about the film being too dark and bleak, but, adversely, damn near every major film released in theaters today are bright shining glimmers of hope, which seriously gets dull to me. I suppose I don’t really mind the dark.

    I think I liked the film a lot more than you (I’d give it an A), but I enjoyed your review all the same. Well done.

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