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Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

No One Was Supposed To Get Hurt. 

Year: 2007 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: Unknown 
Certificate: BBFC 15 Cert – Not suitable for under 15s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

Director: Sidney Lurmet

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

Andrew Hanson (Hoffman) and his brother Hank (Hawke) are both down on their luck. Both of their lives could be rectified by one thing, money. Andy suggests that they rob a small, suburban jewellery store to get about $600,000. He thinks the little old lady who works in the shop won't cause a problem, the money will all be replaced by the insurance company anyway, and no one will get hurt. He calls it a "ma and pa" operation but this turns out to be more literal than is first apparent. Not to give too much away, but the robbery goes spectacularly wrong.

The title of the film comes from the mysterious quote at the beginning, "May you be in Heaven half an hour…before the Devil knows you’re Dead." The narrative structure of the film is pretty interesting as it tells the story of the robbery from the different perspectives of the people involved, of the days before the robbery and finally of the week after. Confusion is avoided by sharp cuts between the different segments and it allows different parts of the story, like the character's motives, to be revealed at different times.

Hawke, Hoffman and Finney are all acclaimed actors and they work brilliantly well together as part of the same family. Finney is especially good as an aging but strict father who evokes both sympathy and fear. The whole film is gracefully told, with an evocative soundtrack accompanying the smooth interweaving of different moments in time. Small moments, like two people seen having a conversation earlier in the film, are later explained, which keeps the story interesting.

Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is an extremely well crafted film with an intriguing and well-acted story. It is certainly not a feel good film and will likely linger in your mind as you try and work out what it was all for. Yet it lingers for the right reasons, and any film that can pull that off is a film worth seeing.

Nick Grills

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Screenings of this film:

2007/2008 Summer Term (35mm)