With it only having had a sporadic release across Europe over the course of 2008, the start of a new year seems the perfect opportunity to remind Picturenose readers just how much they have to see Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), now that it’s available on DVD.
As one of the few truly great directors who appears to have kept all his marbles as the years have advanced, Sidney Lumet (he of classics such as 12 Angry Men (1957), Fail-Safe (1964), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Equus (1977) and many more, several of which will be featured on PN over the coming months, film fans) could do no better than this as an epitaph, but thankfully the octogenarian (he’s 84) is already hard at work on his next, Getting Out (due for release this year) and still shows little sign of easing up.
Power to his elbow, because Before the Devil… (the title of which is based on the Irish blessing ‘…And may you be in heaven half an hour, before the devil knows you’re dead’) is one of the most harrowing, hand-in-mouth evocations of family breakdown ever committed to screen. Upon its first release, in October 2007, Lumet said: ‘Melodrama is a much maligned genre. And I hope we can bring it back into fashion. I always think of melodrama as the thing we are all capable of that’s swept under the rug.’ Too true.
It begins with two brothers, Andy and Hank Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke), who are on the financial skids and decide to rob the jewellery store of their father Charles (Albert Finney), knowing that dad will get the insurance money, so it’s a victimless crime, right? Oh Lord, no. Fancy knowing how bad things can really get? Watch Hoffman and Hawke deliver two seamless performances, backed up by a wonderful ensemble cast and water-tight script from Kelly Masterson, and you’ll know soon enough.
Hoffman, in particular, flawlessly captures the film’s overriding sense of the screw being turned, and it’s great to see Marisa Tomei as Gina Hanson,the wife of Andy and lover of Hank caught between two brothers bound for hell, as she delivers possibly the finest straight role of her career to date.