Droid defines the Decades Best Films – #4 Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead Poster

In the unlikely event that I’m still alive at 83, I fully expect that I’ll be in some nursing home, relieving myself in my Depends and staring blankly at the wall as I slowly rot into obscurity. At that age Sidney Lumet on the other hand, director of ’12 Angry Men’, ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ and ‘Network’ (to name but a few), made the crime melodrama ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’. It’s an amazing achievement.

Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a slick real estate executive with a trophy wife (Marisa Tomei) and some very bad habits. His brother Hank (Ethan Hawk) is struggling to make his child support payments to his ex-wife (Amy Ryan). For very different reasons, they’re in need of money to change their lives. When Andy enlists Hank in a scheme to rob a jewellery store, it sets off a chain of events that inevitably leads to tragedy.

I don’t want to describe the plot any further just in case you haven’t seen it (even though the trailer gives it away), so I’ll move on.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead 3 The acting in this film is nothing short of superb. Seymour Hoffman, Hawke and Tomei each put in career best performances. On paper you would never believe Hawke and Seymour Hoffman are brothers, but you never question it during the film. These two look like they have history. Andy, older, stronger and smarter, bullying the younger, weaker Hank. Andy is such a loathsome person. He’s a drug addict and a thief, and we start out hating him, but such is the strength of the writing and the acting, that his full character and his motivations are gradually revealed, and our loathing shifts to pity. He hates everyone, but no one more than himself. His childhood, and his relationship with his father, wonderfully played by Albert Finney, is only obliquely hinted at, but gradually the pieces come together and we understand who Andy is. There is a moment late in the film, where Andy looks at someone and see’s everything he hates about himself. The look on Seymour Hoffmans face, the loathing is frightening.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead 2 Ethan Hawke is always a solid actor. Sometimes, as in the Before Sunrise/Sunset films he can be more than that. But here he’s so good that it’s one of the most underrated performances of recent years. Through body language Hawke creates a weak, pathetic Hank as a coddled loser, the baby of the family, who never learnt at a young age to stand up for himself and now lets himself be pushed around by his brother, his ex-wife and even his daughter. His lack of backbone, even though he knows it’s wrong, allows him to get pressured in to participating in what should be a quick, violence free robbery. But instead, he enlists the help of a petty criminal (Brian F. O’Byrne) who insists on bringing a gun. Hank is too weak to stand up to him, and of course the robbery goes wrong. He’s a weasel, but not a bad person. He’s just a useless human being.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead 5 Marisa Tomei, my god, Marisa Tomei. She seems to be giving the middle finger to natural order and getting more beautiful and sexy as she ages. But here she’s not just eye candy (despite the abundance of nudity). Tomei is terrific in creating someone who simultaneously tries to be caring and loving, but is vapid and insecure and who has nothing of value to offer, except for her looks. Albert Finney, as Hank and Andy’s father, is terrific in his supporting role. He has moments, as when he his wife is on life support and he leans over and lovingly kisses her hand, or the look of horror on his face when he finds out who is actually involved in the robbery, that mesmerise. The supporting cast is filled with terrific actors, such as Amy Ryan, Rosemary Harris, Leonardo Cimino and Michael Shannon, that while only onscreen briefly, make a big impact.

The screenplay, written by Kelly Masterson, is impeccably constructed. It folds time, doubling back on itself to show scenes from different perspectives. This is not a gimmick. Instead it’s purposely written to drip feed information about characters, and as the film plays out, it develops motivations and makes sense of these people. There is a deep-seeded sadness and desperation to the main characters, who trudge through their shallow, unhappy lives and then pathetically attempt to better them. This is his debut film and it’s brilliant writing that walks the fine line of reality and bold, over the top themes of good and evil.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead 1 What can you say about Sidney Lumet? After fifty years of making films he knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s made over forty films, and while there have been some bad films here and there, he’s also made quite a few that can easily be considered amongst the best ever. Here he shoots in digital video with multiple cameras, allowing him to cover multiple actors at once. This heightens the realism of the film, and grounds the heightened melodrama in a believable reality. There’s a scene where, just after his mothers funeral and an important conversation with his father, Andy and his wife Gina are driving home and Andy emotionally breaks down. Seymour Hoffman and Tomei are terrific in the scene, and despite both sitting in the front seats of the car, Lumet captures them in separate one shots, cutting back and forth, amplifying their isolation from each other. It’s a brilliant, impactful scene and the direction expertly highlights the meaning and subtext (yes, Don, I said subtext!). To make this film at any age is an achievement, but to make it at the age of 83 is amazing.

Before the Devil Knows Youre Dead 4 There is a line towards the end of the film, delivered by an old jewellery dealer played by Leonardo Cimino that expertly sums the themes of the film up. “The world is an evil place. Some people make money from it, and some people are destroyed by it.” The tragic inevitability in which ‘Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead’ unfolds is fascinating, harrowing and intense. The film puts you through the ringer, and doesn’t pull it’s punches. It’s a brilliant film.


The list so far…

#5 – Zodiac (2007)

#6 – In Bruges (2008)

#7  – Before Sunset (2004)

#8  – Avatar (2009)

#9  – Requiem for a Dream (2001)

#10 – The Descent (2005)

#11 – Unbreakable (2000)

#12 – Best in Show (2000)

#13 – Open Range (2003)

#14 – The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

#15 – Bad Santa (2003)

#16 – The Hurt Locker (2009)

#17 – Where The Wild Things Are (2009)

#18 – Kingdom of Heaven (2005) Directors Cut

#19 – High Fidelity (2000)

#20 – Friday Night Lights (2004)

#21 – Frequency (2000)


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

98 responses to “Droid defines the Decades Best Films – #4 Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007)”

  1. Droid says :

    Right. The next film I’m reviewing is Conan The Destroyer. All this gushing is making me sickly. I need something to poke fun at.

  2. Jarv says :

    Odd choice but a great one,

  3. Droid says :

    I’m kicking myself because I thought I had an avi copy of this somewhere, but I’ve only got it on bluray. Which means I had to get the screenshots off the trailer where there were no nudie shots of Tomei. It would’ve been my first review with “boob coverings”.

    • koutchboom says :

      Really? You couldn’t find those shots online? Ummm it would literally take you like 2 seconds to find them.

      • Droid says :

        I don’t get shots from the interwebs. I get them myself from the film or the trailer. That way I get the pic that I want and might tie in with the review.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ummmm???? Those whole scenes are online? Don’t know how any different shot of Tomeis Tomei’s, other then just a shot of them would really tie the whole review together?

        I think you just don’t want your mom finding movie nude pic sites in your internet history.

      • Droid says :

        I’m on my last warning. If I get caught again I lose my internet privileges.

  4. Continentalop says :

    Damn. This is a Sydney Lumet movie and I have yet to see it. I hang my head in shame.

  5. ThereWolf says :

    I haven’t seen this one. Top write-up.

    Another for the ‘Must Watch’ list…

    • Droid says :

      Definitely worth your time, Wolf. Try not to know too much about it. Also, theres some great extras on the bluray. Presumably they’ll be on the dvd as well if you give it a rental.

      • ThereWolf says :

        I may try to stream it online somewhere. I’ll see if stagevu have got it, they’re usually pretty good.

  6. Tom_Bando says :

    …Must see movie…must…..Lumet’s great. Nice one here-I’d forgotten about this.

    One of you guys should review Lonestar and/or Donnie Brasco just because.

    • Droid says :

      I believe Jarvs doing Brasco for his underrated.

      I’ve got Lonestar to watch (haven’t seen it). Might do a review if I get inspired.

      • Jarv says :

        I’m so far behind with that, I’m almost tempted to give up.

        But yes, the original plan was to do Brasco.

      • Droid says :

        Just do it whenever. It’s not like you’re on a deadline.

        For fucks sake it’s May and I’m still doing this fucking series.

  7. Jarv says :

    Fuck it. Back to my natural home.

    Captain Cronos is mint, by the way,

    • Continentalop says :

      Told you. Besides Thundercrack! have I steered you wrong?

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Ahhh but have you seen KRONOS from the Fifties? big clanky machine. Pistons across the desert landscape. Festivities ensue. Yes. You should see it(again) just because.

  8. Tom_Bando says :

  9. Tom_Bando says :

    And this movie is your friend, too!

  10. koutchboom says :

    Good choice. Never knew you were into little scene movies. I forgot about this earlier when I was wondering what the fuck happened to Hawk earlier this year.

  11. kloipy says :

    Great choice Droid. I love this movie

  12. Jarv says :

    Just one correction in a very nice review:

    In the unlikely event that I’m still alive at 83, I fully expect that I’ll be in some nursing home, relieving myself in my Depends and staring blankly at the wall

    And we’d be able to spot the difference how?

  13. just pillow talk says :

    This is quite the solid movie. Droid is right, the performances are top-notch.

    And Marissa…holy fuck…2for2true blesses that finely shaped ass and wonderful tits.

    Thank you.

  14. Hawaiian Organ Donor says :

    I love this movie. With this, Zodiac, In Bruges and Before Sunset in his top ten, I think Droid is my new favorite person on the interwebs.

    I think Albert Finney gave such a terrific performance here. The scene at the end with him and Hoffman at the hospital is amazing.

    • Jarv says :

      What was your top 10? I remember Danny’s being fucking weird.

    • Droid says :

      Awww, cheers HOD. But hold that judgement until you’ve seen the remainder of the list.

      Yeah, Finney is terrific in this film. There is a lot I didn’t talk about, like shots where Lumet slightly overexposes to create different looks. But the review was getting on and I really was makign myself ill gushing over the film. I prefer to be negative.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah HOD, you going to find out just how big of a Harry Potter fan Droid really is.

      • Droid says :

        Well, I did put HP3 on my Considerations list. Really good film that one. The others not so much.

      • Jarv says :


        His top film is going to be Cold Mountain.

        Bet you.

      • Droid says :

        Damn! I forgot about that one. Hmm.. I wonder if I can slot that in somewhere. But then I will have to lose either The Holiday, Sky Captain or Alfie.

      • Jarv says :

        Fucking Alfie.

        You cunt Law.

      • Droid says :

        I only made it half way through Alfie. Mind bogglingly awful film.

      • just pillow talk says :

        Fuck me, Law has been in some dire shit.

      • koutchboom says :

        I still hope that Repo turns out to be a nice surprise.

      • Droid says :

        I think Gattaca is the only film he’s in that I really like (and I love that flick). And he’s good in it because he’s playing himself. A cunt.

      • Jarv says :

        Shopping. PWSA’s good film.

        Law and Frost are crap in it, but it’s about joy riding and Son of Wurzel is great.

      • koutchboom says :

        Hahahah best thing about Shopping was the soundtrack! Naw I’ve been meaning to watch it again I keep falling asleep. Also Paul’s Death Race is fucking good. And I like Resident Evil, its a good connecting piece between games one and two. Need to rewatch Mortal Kombat.

        Also I like Law in the Talented Mr. Ridley. Breaking and Entering was shit though.

      • koutchboom says :

        Oh yeah Behind enemy lines. And maybe Closer? I’ve never seen it, been meaning to. But its like an entire cast I fucking hate.

      • koutchboom says :

        Well except for Julia, I am American after all.

      • koutchboom says :

        Oh yeah he was great in AI as well. He’s pretty solid, hasn’t done too many fucking awful things.

      • Droid says :

        I don’t mind Ripley. And again, he was good in it because he was playing a cunt. That russian war flick was okay. And Holmes was okay. Haven’t seen Shopping.

        Death Race was embarrassing. Absolute shit. Res Evil sucked. Event sucked. Soldier fucking sucked.

      • koutchboom says :

        Death Race sucked yet the core is ok? Death Race is a another great Beer and popcorn movie.

      • Droid says :

        I cannot bring myself to watch Closer. Julia fucking Roberts and Jude fucking Law in the same movie will drive me to murder-suicide.

      • Jarv says :

        Resident Evil? Christ on a fucking moped- it’s a fucking Amnesia storyline!

        RE is wank, Closer is saved by Owen, but otherwise wank, Ripley was wank, Enemy at the gate was wank, and so forth.

        To be fair, he’s not bad in any of them, but they’re not good films.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ehhh Evil isn’t THAT much of a Amnesia story line. Its used effectively. For its genre of video game films, its probably the best. Depending on how much you liked Slilent Hill.

      • Jarv says :

        Don’t forget Black Hole of talent Natalie Portman.

        Owen is fucking BRILLIANT in it though, genuinely one of the nastiest most scabrous, degenerate performances in a while.

        Other than that, though, it’s wank.

      • Jarv says :

        Silent Hill is comfortably the best Video Game adaptation and is still meh.

        RE- the Amnesia was a main plot point. I know because *hangs head in shame* I own it and can’t bring myself to throw the shitburger out.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yet the amnesia plot line was perfectly fine in A History of Violence?

        I own Resident Evil as well. Its really not that bad, a little dated. I guess I don’t remember it as much as you? How is amnesia the main plot of Resident Evil? What that she didn’t remember she started the virus? Eh thats not a huge aspect of it. I mean the virus is out and its a survival horror movie, the fact that she started it is just a plot point not the main plot.

      • Droid says :

        The Core is lots of fun.

        Death Race is not fun. It’s boring, nasty, embarrassing, pointless shit.

      • koutchboom says :

        Thats how I feel about The Core.

      • Jarv says :

        It wasn’t Amnesia in HOV. He’s hiding out.

        RE- it isn’t just Alice, it’s whatshisname as well. It’s the major character motivation for the two of them.

        A fucking terrible film.

        That cunt Anderson thinks it’s the film that bought zombie films back into fashion.

      • Droid says :

        Koutch, you really need to stop trying to justify your opinion by saying “but this other film was okay?” Judge the film on its own merits.

        And AHOV didn’t have an amnesia storyline did it? Isn’t it he just wouldn’t admit it?

      • koutchboom says :

        I thought he didn’t remember? I need to see it again. My biggest problem with that movie was that the trailer gave away too much, left little to no suspense in the actual movie.

        I thought he didn’t remember he was a mobster?

      • Droid says :

        And that’s fair enough, mate. I’d quibble on describing The Core as ‘nasty’, but I don’t really care.

      • Jarv says :

        The big problem here is that none of these are actually good films (objectively).

        They’re all films that everyone knows is bad, but some people enjoy and some don’t…

        Other examples:

        Hard Rock Zombies, I loved Droid hated,

        Sahara- Droid Loved it, I dislike it.

        and so forth. When you get down to this level, there’s no real reasoning.

      • koutchboom says :

        Yeah I was just going to say something like that.
        Like my thing is that yeah I don’t like The Core, but I’d put it about at the same level as Resident Evil/Death Race/Jude Dredd.

        Its more you like it or you don’t, none of them are REALLY SHIT. Those movies are all too fun to be truely shit. Just you didn’t have as much fun as the next guy with some of them.

      • Droid says :

        No, he was just refusing to admit to Harris that he was the ex-mobster. And the film doesn’t indicate one way or another until towards the end.

      • koutchboom says :

        Ohh ok, very well. Didn’t really care for that film when I first saw (mainly because there was nothing outside of the trailer). Maybe I should watch it again. I don’t know still knowing everything about it will not help with the suspense. That really is one of the worst fuck you trailers. Same with Red Eye. Those two movies could’ve been something CRAZY to see in theaters if they had better trailers.

      • Jarv says :

        No- he’s hiding out and won’t admit it.

      • Droid says :

        And note that I’ve never said that The Core is a good film. It’s lots of fun, and completely stupid, but I don’t care. I enjoyed the hell out of it.

      • Jarv says :


        None of them are Sex and the City level of shit, (on that note, there’s a fucking huge billboard of their airbrushed faces opposite the flat now. It’s disturbing) but they aren’t objectively good.

        It’s either you like them or you don’t, and everyone has different buttons with them.

        One I’ll never understand, though, is how anyone liked The Family Man. But if ever there’s a film that’s not for me, then that one’s it. The only way it could be any less for me is if it was also a costume drama.

      • Droid says :

        I like The Family Man.


      • Jarv says :

        I know.

        I got it off your completely erroneous Beer and Pizza list.

        Crazy fool.

      • Droid says :


        There are some dodgy films on there I admit. But fuck you, I like them.

  15. Jarv says :

    At the end of the day, really, everyone’s top 10 for the decade has been hugely different, and everyone’s top 10 Beer and Pizza will be even more different.

    For example, I happen to know that Droid’s top 3 are Moulin Rouge, Cold Mountain and The Hours.

    He loves him some nicole, and his number one beer and pizza of all time is Practical Magic.

    • Droid says :

      It’s a toss up, because I really do love The Stepford Wives, Bewitched and The Invasion too. But I thought it would look a bit silly to have my Top 6 all Nic films so I limited it to just Top 3.

      • koutchboom says :

        God I’ve seen the Stepford wives. Luckily I’ve managed to not see Bewitched.

  16. just pillow talk says :

    The Core is pure dumb fun.

    And I trying to think of other movies that Jude has been in that I liked..I think Road to Perdition, which was okay, and Enemy at the Gates, which was okay.

    And it was defnitely not amnesia in History of Violence…Joey was trying to run away and leave that “history” behind. He hid it from his family, town, etc.

  17. Tom_Bando says :

    The Core is your friend. Stanley Tucci as a bad Carl Sagan satire. You know the movie’s going to be THAT kinda movie right then and there.

    But-it DOES have Bruce Greenwood. He is okay-winds up dead-generally he’s better than his material.

    • Droid says :

      It has a good cast. Eckhart, Tucci, Greenwood, Karyo, Lindo, Swank, Jenkins. And most importantly, you can tell that everyone knows it’s ridiculous. If they’d taken it seriously it would’ve been shit.

      • koutchboom says :

        Burce Greenwood maybe why thats why i don’t like the chore. I always find him terrible boring, luckily he didn’t have much of a part to put me asleep with in Star Trek. Oh yeah also what’s her fuck, Swank, I don’t understand why she is an actress.

  18. Droid says :

    Another reason to love The Core.

    In a poll of hundreds of scientists about bad science fiction films, The Core was voted the worst.

    • just pillow talk says :

      That’s fucking awesome.

      At some point I’m getting to Megafault, which I’m sure won’t live up to The Core.

  19. Tom_Bando says :

    Plus you have singing whales at the end saving the day. Always a realistic ending.

  20. Stuntcock Mike says :

    Tomei IS a fucking goddess, good call.

    My favorite Lumet films have always been Fail-Safe and Serpico.

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