Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

CRIME DRAMA; 1hr 57min

STARRING: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke

Family jewels: from left, Hawke and Hoffman

Sometimes, it’s not just the best-laid plans that go belly-up. Andy and Hank Hanson’s harebrained scheme to rob their parents’ suburban jewellery store is hatched in financial desperation, foolhardy all the way and ruinous for everyone. (Hoffman and Hawke play the deadbeat brothers; Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris their oblivious folks.)


With short, sharp strokes, director Sidney Lumet (Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict) fills in the two brothers: one crafty, the other weak, they’re cash-strapped, unwittingly involved with the same woman (Marisa Tomei as Andy’s trophy wife) and mired in all sorts of strife. The tone of playwright Kelly Masterson’s propulsive screenplay is businesslike and forbidding, and Lumet — a master of the melodramatic art — handles its terrible plunge with the precision of a man in his element, as the narrative clicks neatly back and forth and the family’s centre of gravity continues to crumble.


As structured as origami and as remorseless as Greek tragedy, this drama of undoing is acted out with the white-hot conviction of monumental and irreparable heartbreak.