Review: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Despite its plain face, the modest Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead still manages to be tense, brutal and shocking. The pervasive depressing tone combines with the slow pace to create a fairly sombre night at the cinema, but it’s a quality night at the cinema nonetheless.

Veteran director Sydney Lumet, now an old man, guides a handful of great actors. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Albert Finney all turn in strong performances. They’re scumbags, all of them. Watching them interact brings to mind the tragedy of Macbeth, or Hamlet. It’s not as grand, but it’s a family tragedy populated with awful, intriguing people.

And despite his age, Lumet isn’t going all coy on us. He’s not afraid to open with a full-on sex scene with a sweaty, fat Hoffman. He assaults us with violent, erratic, desperate people, and surprises us with the utterly tragic dysfunctionality of the family.