Thursday, April 24, 2008
I heard great things about this one. Fantastic things. Things that made me think, "Why isn't this getting any attention at the Oscars?" It's from visionary director Sidney Lumet and stars Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman, how is this not being nominated for anything? But then last night I saw it. And while it was a really superb movie, I now understand why it was passed over by the Academy. It was just up against too many other great movies. It wasn't flawed in any major way, it just got released in the same year as movies like The Assassination Of Jesse James, There Will Be Blood, and No Country For Old Men. And that's some stiff competition.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is about two brothers Hank (Hawke) and Andy (Hoffman) who both have serious money problems. Andy's idea is to rob their parents jewelry store to make some quick cash. Their parents have insurance so they'll be compensated, no one will get hurt, and they solve their financial problems. Everyone wins, right?
Well, if that were the case, this wouldn't make a very exciting movie. Within the opening 15 minutes, we see the robbery take place and we watch as things turn sour. The interesting thing about this movie is how information is given to us. The story is not told chronologically, it frequently jumps back to the past and then follows a different sequence to bring us to the present again. We only occasionally see the same scene twice (unlike Vantage Point) and when we do, it's always to give us important information that couldn't be worked into the scene when it was shown previously. This allows to filmmakers to feed us information as they deem necessary. We are only told what we need to know, no more, no less. There are no scenes that set the foundation of all the characters in the beginning. For example, we only find out that Andy and Hank work together 30 or 40 minutes into the movie. Normally, this is the sort of irrelevant information that gets tossed around within the first 10 minutes of a movie. But not here.
In addition to giving the audience certain pieces of information, there's also bits that are withheld entirely. We see Hank visiting his daughter, who lives with his ex, dropping her off from her softball games and various fatherly things (but of course, he never has the child support payments). The first line Andy's ex has in the movie is "Fuck you, Andy." Right off the bat, we see she is an angry character and throughout the movie, our hatred for her only grows. But we're never told what happened to their relationship, why they broke up. We only see one side. She probably has legitimate reasons to hate Andy and treat him like shit. And as we don't see Andy's history, we also don't see his future. At the end of the movie, all of the main character's stories are wrapped up, with the exception of Andy's. I'm sure we're supposed to imagine specific things happened, but it's not like he was a minor character. Ethan Hawke was second billed. Your guess is as good as mine (or maybe even better) as to why they left out so much info about Andy.
Before The Devil Knows You're Dead was a movie that was great in many ways. Wonderfully acted and beautifully filmed, it had all of the ingredients for an Oscar nomination. If you missed out on this one in the theaters because there were too many other movies that needed to be seen, give this one a chance now that it's out on DVD. It's well worth it.