Under the Radar?: “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

“May you be in heaven half an hour before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” is a 2007 film about a pair of brothers who decide to rob their parents’ Jewelry Store, to disastrous consequences.

It stars Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marissa Tormei and Albert Finney.

Hoffman stars as an accounting executive with a drug problem who has been embezzling money from the company he works for. In anticipation of an upcoming audit, he proposes the robbery to his brother, who is also financially strapped. Their plan is to go at a time when they know the part time help will be working the counter, and not their parents. They won’t even have to use a real gun. Their parents have insurance, so they’ll be compensated for their losses. No one loses….

At least in theory.

Things begin to go awry when Hawke’s character enlists the aid of a local criminal. Hawke intends to stay in the car as a getaway driver while the friend he’s enlisted to help goes in to the store and actually commits the crime. This new person to the plan brings a real gun for the robbery, however, and things begin to completely unhinge from there on out.

To reveal that the robbery goes badly is no spoiler, the movie is told in a non linear format. Also, the robbery is barely the beginning of the brothers’ problems. Before you know it, they’re up to their neck in follow up crimes, being threatened by local wiseguys, having marital issues, being tracked by their father (who doesn’t realize they’re behind the robbery), and of course, the audit has begun at Hoffman’s character’s company and the irregularities are piling up. It’s as intense as it sounds, and often shockingly emotionally disturbing. It has an insane climax, followed by a stunning conclusion, both of which left my jaw on the floor.

The movie is chock full of Oscar winners and nominees, so it’s no surprise at all that the performances are top notch across the board. The movie is not just a thriller, it’s a family struggle story, so it’s emotionally loaded. And each of member of the cast carries their weight.

But of course, most of the credit here belongs to the Director, the sublime Sidney Lumet, who passed away earlier this year at the age of 86. Lumet was one of Hollywood’s most prolific directors, with 72 directorial credits on his IMDb page (although many of them are TV). His body of work includes such all time greats as “12 Angry Men”, “Serpico”, “Murder on the Orient Express”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Network” and “The Verdict”. “Serpico” and “Dog Day” both crack my personal top 100 films. Lumet never won an Oscar, but 14 of his films were nominated for Oscars, and he himself was nominated for Best Director 4 times. In 2004 he was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for “recognition of his brilliant services to screenwriters, performers and the art of the motion picture.”

As this was his final film, he can never be accused of “limping across the finish line”. The exact opposite in fact.. This movie is taut and harrowing and a great suspense thriller.


Just a note, this is my 100th post!!


5 thoughts on “Under the Radar?: “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead”

  1. Spot on review, “insane climax, followed by a stunning conclusion”…and Hoffman is amazing as usual. This is one of those films that got little to no public praise or attention and there is no good explanation as to why. Great actors, great story, great direction, but yet every Adam Sandler movie makes $40mil opening weekend? I just don’t get it…

    • Budget? Advertising? The fact that Sandler movies can be understood by all people, regardless of their IQ, while “Devil” requires some heavy lifting of the brain?

      I mean, I get it… I just don’t like it.

      Well, that’s why it’s “Under the Radar”. Thanks for stopping in Kyle!

  2. What a great note to end a career on. Even in the end stages of his time on Earth, Lumet knew how to make a film without any fancy trickery or frills or anything and still tell a story better than most of today’s younger filmmakers.

    I easily consider this one of his best movies, alongside the likes of Prince of the City, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

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