Family Demons

28 06 2008

“Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead” 2008

Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei

In the first paragraph of Roger Ebert’s review of “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” he gave the film his highest praise before admitting his hesitation in writing a review that might even obliquely refer to revealing plot points that are critical to the story. It was enough of a warning to stop me from finishing the review before seeing the film. I will give you the same courtesy. If this is a film you would like to see, it might be a good idea to set this review aside until after you’ve seen it. But I’m not recommending it.

When the film ended, I returned to Ebert’s review and read it in its entirety. He loves this film and awarded it his highest rating of four stars. Ebert describes it as a gripping crime drama that captures the emotional impact of the crime on everyone involved, victims and perpetrator. It certainly does. And the victims are sympathetic enough. Too bad the perps are such slimy lowlifes. I might have empathized more with the self-reproach if it hadn’t been so saturated with self-absorption.

The film opens with a graphic lovemaking session between Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character Andy and his wife Gina, played by Marisa Tomei. How an loser like Andy got a stunner like Gina into his bed, let alone into the state of matrimony, is beyond me. And I’m not just talking about looks. Andy is quietly seething in a sea of self-pity and illicit debt. He loves heroin and dabbles in cocaine. He does not appear to recognize the depravity of the crime that he plans, nor does he see a problem in enlisting his brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to do the dirty work for him. He preys on what the filmmaker would like us to believe is Hank’s desperation.

I submit that Hank is not so much desperate as he is lazy. He works in a restaurant and can’t seem to make his child-support payments, or afford to send his beloved daughter to see “The Lion King” with her friends. Come on, Hank. Get a night job (or a day job, whatever). This guy does not appear to be prone to any of the obvious money-sucking addictions like drugging, gambling, or prostitutes (who needs to pay a prostitute when you can sleep with your brother’s hot wife for free?) If he’s so broke, how does he pay for his Manhattan apartment? Perhaps he should consider moving to Brooklyn.

Point is I spent the majority of the film waiting for that twist in the tale that might redefine the story and make the whole thing worth watching. I ultimately waited two hours for a culmination of events that never came. The only climax to be found in this story occurred right in that opening scene.

NOTE: For those of you who think the final scene serves as some sort of absolution: It might have, if only Daddy had done it years earlier. By the time he does what he does, it’s far too late to put anyone, including himself, out of their misery.





5 responses

29 06 2008
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10 07 2008

Good review, this is one of those movies that I heard so many good things about, watched, and then shrugged my shoulders. It kind of pissed me off how they glossed over the invesitgation into Andy’s embezzlement… did the funeral for their mother happen during the same weekend that she was killed, or did Andy’s company just give him a free pass? His motivation just basically disappeared by the end of the movie. Add to that the plot device of how the father found out about Andy’s role in the crime… pretty convenient.

13 12 2008
Mary M.

You are so right, Megan, in your review of this movie. I was ready for an intelligent movie and usually Phillip Seymour Hoffman doesn’t let me down. I was disappointed, and that’s putting it mildly. The opening scene was actually repulsive. I don’t mind sex scenes, but this one was just plain crude. With no reason to like anyone in the film yet, how could I feel any sympathy or passion for the couple going at it on screen. It was sweaty and gross!!

20 12 2010
an idiot abroad

Youre so proper. Im there with you. Your blog is absolutely really worth a study if anyone comes across it. Im fortunate I did since now Ive acquired a whole new view of this. I didnt realise that this problem was so important and so universal. You absolutely place it in point of view for me.

20 12 2010
Megan Horsington

I’m so thrilled to see there are still people out there dropping by my blog, even though I haven’t updated it in more than a year.

I’m curious to know what universal problem you’re referring to. Something that I mentioned in one of my reviews? I’d love to chat more with you about it, if you’re interested.

I also would like to tell you that this blog will not be obsolete for long. I’m launching either an entirely new site or revamping this one, come January 1 (haven’t decided which). I hope you’ll join me there! More updates to come…

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