Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead

“””May you be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead”” goes the Irish toast. And “”may you not watch this film when too high or too low in spirits”” I say. This movie is heavy and depressing as anything you’ll ever watch.

I’ve actually been putting this one off for a bit. I wanted to watch it during the first go round on the movie wall, but I chose something else (I’m not in front of the movie wall, so I can’t see what it was). I had time to watch it after Atonement, but it would not be a good idea to watch those back to back unless you removed all sharp objects and heavy medication from my apartment.

Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman star as brothers who devise a plan to rob their parents’ jewelry store. Something goes horribly horribly wrong (debated spoiling what, but I’ll maintain the mystery, even though it happens pretty early on) and they’re left to deal with the fallout.

So if it’s as depressing as I say it is (it is!) why put myself through it? It’s amazing work from the cast that also includes Marissa Tomei, Amy Ryan, and Michael Shannon (just before breaking thru in Revolutionary Road). I’d say it’s one of PSH’s best performances, but really, you could say that about just about any of them. It is, however, one of his lesser known ones, and therefore is a hidden gem worth discovering.

A quick illustration on how below the radar this film release was. I saw it back at the Coolidge Corner theater in Brookline, one of my favorite places for indie films. They have 4 (I think it may be 5 now) screening rooms. The first is a large, typical auditorium. Room 2 is a smaller size, but still within normal bounds. Three gets significantly smaller. Four is my favorite. That’s where this was. Screening room four has about 20 couch-like seats, and a tiny projector like you’d expect in an office. It’s an incredibly intimate setting, and I just love how unique it is. I’m sure there are others like it, but I’ve never encountered them. I should try and make my way back there again.

One thing I’d forgotten, I really like the jumping timeline. The reference point is the robbery, and we see scenes before or after (with a helpful X days before/after), and each jump takes you to a different character’s point of view, mostly Hawke and PSH. It’s not even a little bit confusing. The story and events are clear. You just slowly get a clearer picture of the motive and the context of events leading up and out of that ill fated day. Very effective.”

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