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Laramie Movie Scope:
Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Journey into darkness

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 10, 2008 -- This tense, gripping film about two desperate brothers slipping into a bottomless pit of crime and murder is cleverly written, brilliantly acted and put together like a fine watch. It is a Shakespearean-like tale of corruption, murder and betrayal. It starts out with a seemingly simple plan. We later find out that this jewelry heist is just the tip of an iceberg of corruption. The brothers were heading for disaster long before they made that fateful decision to rob the jewelry store.

The two brothers, Andy and Hank are played, respectively, by Philip Seymour Hoffman of “The Savages” and Ethan Hawke of “Lord of War.” Andy, who has serious financial problems, talks his weak-willed brother Hank, who also is strapped for cash, into a mad scheme to rob their parents' jewelry store. It seems like a pretty safe heist, since the brothers, who both worked at the store, know the combination to the safe and the security codes, but the heist goes terribly wrong.

Soon Hank is threatened by blackmail by a relative of the robber who was killed in the failed heist, a robber who was recruited by Hank. Andy, who has been embezzling money, is about to be found out. He needs fast cash to make up the shortfall. Hank is falling further behind on his child support payments and faces the wrath of both his daughter and ex-wife who both view him as a cash cow and little else. The brothers are running out of time and become more desperate. They resort to an even more desperate robbery and murder, all the while enduring the aftermath of their mother's (Nanette, played by Rosemary Harris of the “Spider-Man” films) death during the jewelry store heist.

The film works by revealing layers of the story in flashbacks, starting with the robbery. We see that Andy was on course for this tragic collapse long before the robbery. Hank probably would have gotten by on his own if he hadn't been talked into the heist by his brother. Hank's main problem seems to be that he wants to try to please everybody all the time. On the surface, Andy seems like a very successful man, but that is only on the surface. Underneath, his situation is very desperate. Andy's caustic relationship with his father, Charles (Albert Finney of “Amazing Grace”) is especially dramatic. Andy's relationship with his wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei of “Wild Hogs”) is also a bitter one. Andy and Gina's final scene together in the movie is memorable. Andy says, “I don't need any help.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)