Sunday, January 20, 2008

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Tonight I saw Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke.

In this unconventional story of brotherhood, Andy (Hoffman) is a successful real estate mogul who is married to Gina (Tomei), the very definition of a dumb broad.

His brother Hank (Hawke) is not the sharpest tool in the shed, but is somewhat redeemed by his genuine love for his daughter. Unfortunately he also loves Gina, who he is having an affair with, unbeknownst to anyone but them.

For some reason, everyone is in need of cash. Andy for drugs and an escape to Brazil, Hank for child support, and Gina for...well...we assume shopping. And maybe upkeep of her most valuable asset (her body, which we see revealed throughout the film).

There isn't too much background on why neither son has a great relationship with their parents, but for what it's worth, they must not feel comfortable approaching them for a loan since they decide to rob their jewelry store instead.

It sounds ridiculous, but because I've read a lot of Dominick Dunne in my time, I know this sort of thing actually happens. That knowledge affords a special suspension of disbelief while witnessing the smart brother hatch the plan and impose it on the dumb brother (you'd think he'd just employ someone smarter to do it, to be sure they wouldn't screw it up).

What transpires at the robbery triggers a sequence of Babel-like events that basically all lead back to the moral of the story: don't lie, steal, cheat or shoot people.

The film is well-acted and the pace is comfortably fast, but I am a little mystified why this received such universal praise. The plot twists aren't surprising and there aren't a lot of characters to root for. What we learn is that people are basically rotten and the actions of smart people and dumb people are interchangeable when their intent is dishonorable.

What results is entertainment that resembles the nightly news: while compelling to watch, it can also turn your stomach.

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