Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

A pair of brothers decide to rob a jewellery store, but when they bungle the heist, it sets in motion a chain of events that rocks their family to its very core.

While this qualifies as a crime thriller, for the fact it revolves around a jewellery theft, it often borders on a family drama, and it is this which makes it so strong. With its non linear story structure hinging around a very briefly depicted robbery, this has something of Reservoir Dogs about it, but with its focus on the emotional strain the crime takes on the perpetrators’ family it feels far less like a piece of light entertainment.

It’s anchored by outstanding performances from Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as the hapless brothers who are cornered into the crime because of the miserable turns their lives have taken. Hawke’s character, Hank struggles to pay child support to his estranged wife, and Hoffman’s Andy, while in a well-paying job, is crippled by drug addiction. While they are certainly in no sense admirable people, with very few redeeming features, their revulsion to the consequences of their actions makes them believable.

At no point can this be accused of glorifying crime, as can many crime thrillers, as the full impact of the incident is shown on the victims, the perpetrators and their families. This is the last film from legendary director Sidney Lumet, and he shows no signs of losing his deep sense of humanity, nor his innovative approach to story telling.

At times gut-wrenchingly sad and very intense, this is a film that pulls no punches, and acknowledges that you need good, relateable characters to make a great crime movie, not just guns and drugs.

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