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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead


Stars: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, Albert Finney, Rosemary Harris, Aleksa Palladino

Director: Sidney Lumet

One of those backwards-and-forwards films that keeps zig-zagging around in time, this deeply tragic crime drama concerns two brothers (Hoffman, Hawke) both in need of money - one on drugs and embezzling company funds, the other crippled by alimony - who embark on a 'victimless' crime.

Hoffman's plan is that they rob the jewellery store owned by their father (Finney). But Hawke, unable to face the robbery himself, hires a friend, who finds not the doddery old assistant in the shop, but the brothers' mother (Harris). In an ensuing gun battle, Mom and her assailant are both killed, and the whole thing falls apart.

Hoffman, as always, gives a superior performance as the odious Andy, as does Marisa Tomei, required to play several scenes in the nude, as his wife, who's complicating things by having an affair with Hawke. But the writing is only average, so that the dialogue scarcely holds the interest. And the plot suffers a terrible sag in the mid-section, only gathering speed again as the brothers' desperation reaches fever pitch.

Director Lumet does, however, achieve the grim mood intended, and it's underlined by Carter Burwell's intelligent score. There are a few loose ends at the fadeout, but they probably weren't worth pursuing. Hoffman and Hawke look absolutely nothing like brothers, but then that's the least of the film's problems.

David Quinlan

USA 2007. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Technicolor.
112 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 1, Swearing 1.

Review date: 06 Jan 2008