Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
R1 - America - Image Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Rob Fields (15th May 2008).
The Film

When I got wind that I was going to be reviewing this DVD, I was kind of surprised. I knew of this film. It had played at a theater about 60 miles from where I live. I had no plans to see it. I had read over the synopsis online and had even read the reviews in the newspaper. Still, I wasn’t sure I wanted to see it. But, that’s one of the interesting parts about being a reviewer. You never know what you’re likely to be sent to review. Now I’ve got “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” in my DVD player as I’m writing this. The DVD was already available in stores by the time I had received my copy, so I looked over the packaging. I saw some familiar faces: Philip Seymour Hoffman (I remember him from “Boogie Nights” (1997) and “Punch Drunk Love” (2002)), Ethan Hawke (I’ve seen him in a number of films, but I’ll list two of my favorites – “Before Sunrise” (1995) and “Before Sunset” (2004)), Marisa Tomei (I remember her from “My Cousin Vinnie (1992), “In the Bedroom” (2001), and “The Toxic Avenger” (1985)), and Albert Finney (I only remember him from “Traffic” (2000)). So I’m figuring that this ought to be an interesting combination of actors. But then you usually get such combinations in independent films. That’s one of the factors that always make these types of films interesting. Another factor is the story. So, let’s see if there’s a good one here.

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” (1:56:38) – Synopsis: Master filmmaker Sidney Lumet scores big with this absorbing suspense thriller. Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman is Andy, an overextended payroll executive who lures his younger brother, Hank (Ethan Hawke), into a larcenous scheme: the pair will rob a suburban mom-and-pop jewelry store that appears to be the quintessential easy target. The problem is, the store owners are Andy and Hank’s real mom and pop, and when the seemingly perfect crime goes awry, the damage sends them hurtling toward a shattering climax.

One of the things I enjoyed about the film was the acting line-up here. You’ve got Academy Award winners or nominees that make up the better part of the cast. All who are highlighted, including the rest of the cast know how to deliver their lines. They're accents even feel authentic. I also enjoyed how the story was broken up into fragments. You see what happens and then you are suddenly taken to a different point in the story. Do note, however, that the end is definitely THE end. It reminds me of how “21 Grams” (2003) was put together. However, you also know what part of the story it is, because you see subscripts at the bottom that tell you what part it is. It’s a good thing, because the point in the story can change on you when you least expect it. I feel that’s one of the points to helps keep you watching. It worked in “21 Grams” so why shouldn’t it work here, right?

The downsides? In spite of the way the film was set up, it doesn’t take too long to figure out where the film is going. I had a pretty good idea that justice was to be served. Although the synopsis says that there is a ‘shattering climax’, I feel I must disagree. To me when the climax is billed as such, it should be one where you don’t expect the end result. Either that, or it’s the kind of climax that makes you realize that just when you thought you knew the answers, the questions were changed. However, the way that the justice was served was rather unique. So in that regard, a negative is turned into a positive.

My final word: Was the story a good one? Yes. Is it worth a purchase? I would say it’s definitely worth the rental at best. Unless you weren’t expecting the climax and you feel it’s worth the purchase, then okay. Otherwise, I’ll stick with the rental aspect.

Video

The film is presented in anamorphic widescreen format (1.85:1 ratio). The picture looks excellent. There are no indications of grain or any other defects. Image Entertainment certainly did a great job on the transfer. The flesh tones are definitely gleaming (you can tell that Hoffman needs to shave in some scenes). In cast you don’t know, or you don’t take the time to listen to the audio commentary, the film was shot on HD. This would explain why there is no film grain whatsoever. Chapter selections are available in a separate option.

Audio

The film features two English soundtracks. The first is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix. The second is an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix. There are optional English and Spanish subtitles available (for the film only). The tracks sound virtually identical. It doesn’t matter which you watch. I’ve compared scenes with both tracks (the one where Andy Hanson has his crying fit for example) and there wasn’t much difference. I guess it’s just a choice of how many speakers you prefer to have active while watching the film.

Extras

Image Entertainment have included an audio commentary, a featurette, the film’s theatrical trailer, and some bonus trailers for other Image releases that make up the extras. Read further for an explanation of these extras. There are no optional subtitles available for these extras.

There is a feature-length audio commentary by director Sidney Lumet and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke. The three of them share some laughs, but they mix business and pleasure here. They talk technical here. They talk about how cast members were cast. They talk about many of the scenes. You will also learn things that the actors went through during their scenes. If you’re into the technical aspects of the film and just want to have a good time, then this commentary track is for you.

The featurette “How the Devil Was Made” runs 24 minutes and 28 seconds. Here, it starts out with members of the cast talking about the director and how prepared a filmmaker he is. You will see some behind the scenes clips with him in action. Then you will see interview segments from both the cast and crew. Clips from the film are used to emphasize what is being said by said cast/crew member. The featurette is divided into sub-chapters. When the next chapter starts, you will see what it’s about. If you liked the commentary, then you’ll like the this.

Following that is the original theatrical trailer for the film which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.

Bonus trailers play before the Main Menu only and include:

- "The Air I Breathe" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "The Walker" which runs for 2 minutes 1 second.
- "War Dance" which runs for 2 minutes 36 seconds.
- "Nanking" which runs for 1 minute 38 seconds.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: A Audio: A- Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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