Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

This weekend was a very slow weekend movie-wise. I had absolutely no desire to see The Golden Compass, and nothing else new was out around here. However, scanning over what was playing that I hadn’t seen yet, I came across Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and saw that it had an 8.1 rating on IMDB, so I figured I would give it a shot. Overall, I rate it about a 6 out of 10.

The basic premise for the movie is that two brothers (played by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke) find themselves in financial trouble. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Andy has been embezzling from his company and has a bit of a drug problem, and Ethan Hawke’s character Hank is behind on his child support. Their parents (played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) own a jewelry store, and Andy suggests to Hank that they could make some easy money by robbing it. The store is insured, so it would be a victimless crime, and Andy figures that they should each be able to get about $60,000 out of it. Of course, things don’t go as smoothly as planned and they find themselves getting deeper and deeper into trouble.

This was a very non-linear movie. We knew that the robbery failed because it happened in the second scene, whereas we didn’t get all the details of its planning and the reasons behind it until later. Normally I don’t really care for stories that are told out of order, but in this case I think that it worked quite well. It felt like the audience was given the right information at the right times throughout the movie, and having the story told in order might not have been as effective. There were a few times when this approach was confusing, since it wasn’t immediately obvious where it fit in the story, but it usually didn’t take long to figure that out. I do think that the very first scene was hard to place correctly in the time line until the very end, but in general I think that it helped the movie out because it kept you guessing.

However, in my opinion there were some significant problems with the movie:

  • There were a few critical aspects of the story line that seemed pretty implausible, and I don’t think that it would hold up that well under scrutiny. Not the least of which is why they would risk so much for what seemed to be a relatively small payout — $60K isn’t the kind of money that leaves you “set for life”.
  • Other aspects of the story seemed to be thrown in for no apparent reason and didn’t seem to have any relation to anything else that was going on. This didn’t really detract from the movie, but it didn’t really add anything to it.
  • The movie seemed to end very abruptly and left some pretty big questions unanswered. On the other hand, because of the non-linear manner in which the story led to a lot of overlap where we saw parts of the same scenes multiple times. It almost seemed like I ended up watching the movie twice. While it did sometimes help to establish the time line, I think that it would have fared better if some of that duplication had been eliminated and they spent more time tying up loose ends.
  • The very beautiful Marisa Tomei was in this movie, playing the part of Andy’s wife. She had several nude scenes, but none of them seemed very integral to the story line there were a couple of times that it just felt awkward.

I did like the movie more than I thought I would after having seen the trailer, but I do think that there are some small touches that could have really elevated it. It had the potential to be a great movie, but ultimately I think that it ended up as just pretty good.