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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Review

by Mario Bernengo
From the 45th New York Film Festival

The Frat Pack Tribute's coverage of the 2007 New York Film Festival continues as we now turn our attention to Frat Pack friend Philip Seymour Hoffman's turn in Sidney Lumet's heist melodrama Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, co-starring Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Albert Finney, among others. Distributed by the Frat Pack-befriended company THINKFilm (The Wendell Baker Story, The Ten etc), the film is slated for an October 26 theatrical release and will be rated R.

Though it's written all over it, the R-rating was mainly "for a scene of strong graphic sexuality." Sure enough, as soon as the lights go out, before you get a chance to get your bearings, a stark naked Philip Seymour Hoffman is, very strongly and very graphically, sexualizing Marisa Tomei (who spends a good part of her scenes in the nude, by the way). While it's, I don't want to say "refreshing", but you get the idea, to see something other than fake Hollywood butt doubles up on that all too huge screen, I think the MPAA warning should read something like, "You will see Philip Seymour Hoffman butt naked." You know, something a little more specific like that.

The opening shot, representing Hoffman's character's "half an hour in heaven" (the Irish toast from which the title is taken goes, "May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you're dead"), has all the numbers of becoming the talk of the town. The rest of the movie, we'll see. But it's a solid, tightly woven tale of a perfect heist gone wrong, told in flashbacks from the different characters' points of view, as the aftermath propels towards a – literally – breathtaking finale. Hoffman plays Andy, a shady real estate agent with a penchant for snorting and shooting up who bullies his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), who's consistently falling behind on his child support, into robbing a suburban jewelry store, piquantly enough owned by the brothers' parents. The store is insured, the brothers solve their respective monetary problems, nobody gets hurt, everybody wins. Endo story. Needless to say, it all goes haywire; in what ways, you're better off finding out for yourself.

Shot on DV in a gritty New York, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a hard-hitting tragedy of almost Greek proportions, with numerous twists and turns, fine performances all around (Albert Finney as the father has a wide-open supporting Oscar shot), and Ethan Hawke rocking a wig-sunglasses-fake stache combo which alone makes it worth your while. Also, in one of the smaller roles, look out for the sensationally funny badass Michael Shannon. He had a good, if only mildly amusing, supporting role in the, in my opinion underrated, Frat Pack friend movie Let's Go To Prison, but in this serious turn he is coolly intimidating in a way that had me in stitches. I definitely want to see more of him in future Frat Pack-related projects.

***

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