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Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this intense, mature heist film about two adult brothers who conspire to rob their parents -- no one is supposed to get hurt, but things go very awry -- definitely isn't for kids. It's full of loud, bloody, harrowing violence (including a robber exchanging gunfire with an elderly woman) and some pretty explicit sex scenes (thrusting, panting, naked bottoms, visible breasts/nipples). Several scenes show drinking and explicit drug use (cocaine, marijuana, heroin), and there's adultery, cigarette smoking, and plenty of strong language ("f--k," "s--t," and more).
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU'RE DEAD, greedy Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) convinces his younger, more earnest, and less clever brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) to carry out a robbery at their parents' jewelry store. The crime is meant to be victimless, but it goes very badly, leaving a masked accomplice dead, Andy and Hank's mother Nanette (Rosemary Harris) in a coma, and Hank in a complete panic. The rest of the film provides sketchy, somewhat predictable context for each brother: While Andy fears losing his wife, Hank is desperately behind on child. At the same time, they must put on a show for their distraught father, Charles (Albert Finney), while their mother lies dying in the hospital. As each brother reveals his fears and disappointments, he also discovers that his life is too far gone to recover. Addicted to cocaine and heroin, Andy can't find a dark enough hole in which to disappear. And Hank, making one bad decision after another, discovers that he'll never be as rich -- or as miserable -- as his brother.
Is it any good?
At its best, Sidney Lumet's latest movie reflects the characters' torment and rage in its complex structure and excellent performances. As the story cuts back and forth in time, viewers come to see motives and consequences gradually, piecing characters together as they come to understand themselves. But at its worst, the movie lapses into melodramatic formula, with men clashing and competing while women suffer.
Though the brothers' gnarly relationship creates a compelling puzzle, the women around them tend to fall by the wayside, serving more as evidence of the men's failures than as characters with their own lives -- or deaths. Even Nanette's passing becomes an occasion for the boys to argue and flail about. As reckless and forlorn as the brothers and their father may be, you can only imagine how much worse it is for the women who live with them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the characters' bad/strained family relationships. Why do the brothers resent their father? How do they act out with each other? What role does Gina fulfill for both of the brothers? Do you think relationships like these are realistic? Is it more "entertaining" to see a movie about dysfunctional characters or functional ones? Why?
- In theaters: October 26, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: April 14, 2008
- Cast: Albert Finney, Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman
- Director: Sidney Lumet
- Studio: THINKFilm
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: a scene of strong graphic sexuality, nudity, violence, drug use and language.