Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead ★★★★½

I liked this movie the first time I saw it back in 2008, but I never realized just how amazing it truly is.

On my initial viewing, I saw it as just a thriller, and in that respect, it worked. But at the time, I didn't know what film noir was or how it translated to modern times or anything like that, but since then, I've done plenty of research and have only just realized that I wasn't looking at the movie the right way.

This is neo-noir if there ever was one. It has all the hallmarks of the style: there's Tomei's femme fatale, who functions only as a woman who wants Hoffman's money, and the only time we see her upset is when she is unable to manipulate him. There is also a strong sense of fatalism running throughout, and the fractured, non-chronological timeline of the plot serves to greatly accentuate this. We *know* everything is going to go wrong. And no matter what anyone does, they cannot escape this truth, which is what film noir is all about - the world collapsing in on the characters, usually due to selfishness, greed, or simply fate itself. And sometimes, there's a scene or aspect of a film noir that just feels so weird and strange, like the clown in Body Heat, which explains the offbeat drug dealer in this film.

This film features some of the greatest acting you might ever see. Ethan Hawke, in particular, deserves every award for acting that wasn't given to Daniel Day-Lewis that year. While the characters themselves are not particularly deep or three-dimensional, they all feel like real people, through their actions, reactions, or simply their home environments. Even the short appearance of Michael Shannon feels real, despite having little to do.

Which brings me to another point: the attention to detail in this film is remarkable. The books holding up Hawke's couch contrast beautifully with the sterile surroundings of Hoffman's apartment. There's a great moment where Hawke is talking with his ex-wife. It's a very brief scene where the ex is asking for child support money - while unwrapping a package of brand new curtains, something she clearly doesn't need, while Hawke sits on the beautiful couch in her well-furnished living room. From this simple action, we know that she's just using him. She doesn't need the money at all. Then there's the "feel my heart" line at the beginning. There's just so much this movie has to offer, and greatly rewards repeat viewings.

Sidney Lumet, one of the most criminally under-rated directors to ever work in film, shows absolutely no sign that he was 83 years old while making this movie. The framing, shot composition, subtle camera moves, and stellar performances are all of the highest quality. This is truly the work of one of the medium's best.

I really can't recommend this movie enough. If you go in realizing what the film set out to accomplish - neo-noir with a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in for good measure - you will be greatly rewarded.

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