Film review: 'Devil' is gut-wrenching thriller

Published: Friday, Nov. 23 2007 12:00 a.m. MST

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD — *** — Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei; rated R (profanity, violence, nudity, sex, drugs, vulgarity, brief gore, slurs).

If the film was interested in full disclosure, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" probably should have been titled "Things Go Horribly Awry."

That's not meant as a reflection on the film's quality; it's a description of some of the things that happen to various characters in the film. This is one of the most gut-wrenching thrillers in recent memory, and it features a real sucker-punch ending.

As such, the movie is a welcome return to form for veteran director Sidney Lumet ("Serpico," "Dog Day Afternoon," "The Verdict," "Network"), whose cinematic output has been mostly mediocre-to-poor over the past couple of decades.

But be warned, "Before the Devil" is also very R-rated, especially screenwriter Kelly Masterson's raw dialogue and some graphic sexual material.

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke star as Andy and Hank, respectively, two financially strapped brothers who are working on a robbery scheme. Andy provides the brains behind the operation, which involves a "mom-and-pop" jewelry store.

Hank starts to get cold feet when he discovers the store is actually their parents' (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris). And things go from bad to worse when the loose cannon (Brian F. O'Byrne) he hires as the actual robber opens fire in the store, which leaves their mother in a coma.

So while their father tries to figure out whether to keep his now brain-dead wife on life support, Andy and Hank try to cover their tracks. But their uneasy alliance is tested when Andy discovers that Hank is having an affair with his wife (Marisa Tomei).

There's no question that all of these characters are morally reprehensible. Even Finney's family patriarch is verbally abusive to his loser sons. But the film features the type of performances that make their predicament very watchable. Hoffman is terrific as always, while Hawke seems to be having fun playing a weasel. The supporting cast, which also includes Amy Ryan and Michael Shannon, is terrific as well, especially Finney.

"Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is rated R for strong sexual language (profanity, crude slang terms and other suggestive talk), strong violence (gunplay and shootings, vehicular mayhem and violence against women), male and female nudity, simulated sex and other sexual contact, drug use and references (narcotics), brief gore, and slurs based on sexual preference. Running time: 116 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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