Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


(2007, Sidney Lumet)

Ethan Hawke is a take-him-or-leave-him type of actor. After seeing this flick, I’d like to leave him at the very next bus stop. His self-conscious style rarely allows a natural reaction or line delivery. To be honest, I usually skip Ethan Hawke movies in general. I can’t even fathom watching him playing Hamlet.

The script is contrived beyond belief. Imagine the 25-words-or-less pitch to studios: “Two brothers in trouble rob a mom-and-pop jewelry store…. which is actually OWNED BY THEIR MOM AND POP! Get it?” C’mon, that’s undergraduate screenwriting at best.

The screenwriter, Kelly Masterson, constantly pulls his characters around by the nose, through the Tarantino-esque nonlinear narrative, and leading them to an inevitable bloody ending, like something out of Shakespeare. Again, undergraduate-level Shakespeare. Marisa Tomei and Albert Finney are given nothing to do except get topless (Tomei) and/or grieve (Finney). At least the filmmakers got those actions in the proper order.

P.S. Hoffman tries his best to produce given the limited constraints of his character and scripted dialogue. In fact, he tries just a bit too hard to nail his scenes involving emotional breakdown. And Hawke, as mentioned above, visibly twitches to show you he’s nervous, and stares blankly to show you he’s conflicted. Cue Jon Lovitz, Master Thespian in his robe: “ACTING!”

The whole film smacks of acting workshop material that should have been filtered out by a well-respected actor’s director like Sidney Lumet. I’d hate to say the 82-year-old Lumet has lost his ability to recognize good from bad acting, but the proof is on celluloid. He does keep the pace relatively taut, and kept me interested with some vibrant camerawork. I just wish he had a better script to work with, and hope he has another chance to redeem himself soon.



Posted on June 24, 2008, in Film log and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I do the hard work so you don’t have to. I watched Hawke play Hamlet. The “To Be or Not To Be” speech is given in a video store.

  2. Thanks for taking one for the team, Betster.

    You know, I’ve got almost 700 other movies from the Top 1000 to tackle, if you’re so inclined to alleviate my burden….;)

  3. I loved this movie. The characters are so hard. Ethan is throws his soul into scenes. Ethan and Hoffman are perfect to me.

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