Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is bleak as hell. The plot is depressing and the characters unlikable. While I neither demand positive plots or likable characters, in this case I was left wondering, what’s the point?

I really enjoyed Philip Seymour Hoffman as the conniving, colder older brother Andy. I’m halfway through PSH’s terrific work this year and both of his performances I’ve seen (this and The Savages) are Oscar-worthy. Andy is ruthless but also desperate and delusional and Hoffman nails it. The other performances are good here too: Marisa Tomei, Ethan Hawke, and especially Albert Finney. Looking at it from an Oscar perspective, all of them appear to be long shots but I would welcome a nomination for any of them. While I merely liked the film, it was interesting and unique enough that I hope it gets at least one nomination somewhere.

Sidney Lumet might get some votes for Best Director for reminding people he’s still alive. I’m not convinced he pushes the film into the upper echelon of 2007’s top films. A lot of it is technically interesting, particularly in the way the story twists back on itself. It may be a gimmick, but it’s done cleverly and seeing the same events from multiple perspectives is very intriguing. But the time shifting covers for the film’s shortcomings, particularly that we don’t care about the characters. It’s all plot and no heart (and of course you can’t forget the heart in a film about family members doing horrible things to each other!). I don’t need to care FOR the characters, but I should care ABOUT what happens to them and here I watched them attentively but ambivalently. I can’t really point to anything that should have been done differently; I liked the film but it just failed to really grab me.

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