Before the Devil knows you’re Dead

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 ****The amorality of a businessman driven by greed; his brother weak, without the moral courage to say no. Thoughtlessness, operating in a moral vacuum; power and irresponsibility. The sight of a suited businessman wielding a gun, perhaps the most terrifying and ruthless spectacle. This is a believable and realistic film, despite the director’s description of it as ‘melodrama’.
The normality evident in the first half is no veneer: it is only the drastic events later on which separate the brothers from anyone else. Albert Finney excels as the father and a powerful family dynamic emerges, exposing long held resentments, disappointments and betrayals. They are all despicable characters once their lives start to unravel, indeed Hank (Ethan Hawke) tries to make a stand so late on that the Rubicon is barely visible. There are some excellent moments, such as the skag head who reminds Phillip Seymour Hoffman (exquisite acting) of himself. The latter bullies his younger brother into the ploy with the words “It’s too late to think”.
Hawke portrays to a tee the pathetic, bungling fool that he has been typecast as by his family. Ultimately we raise questions about the parenting of these screwed up adults. Finney apologises and, despite his grief, his actions at the end are based on pure hate. The daughter appears to have turned into a Christian nut. But if all the characters are despicable, what can we draw from the film? A warning? They lose their perspective and give way to base bestial instincts almost; Hank’s instinct is always to run.
The story is told in fragments with the robbery occurring at the start and the build up shown afterwards, spliced up before the denouement. Suspense is certainly not lacking in the first half; it becomes like watching an awful train wreck. “The world is an evil place. Some people realise that and get rich, others are destroyed”, a grim analysis which seems bleakly accurate in the world Lumet presents. This is a worthy addition to the work of a legendary director. It could hardly rival the enclosed drama of 12 Angry Men or the peculiar beauty of Dog Day Afternoon, but the same passion for exploring behaviour remains and bears witness to a very American and sadly common phenomenon.by Hilary Aked 

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