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Two unlikely brother: Andy, the supposedly successful one, gets into some bit of trouble when his excessive drug consumption makes him reallocate some company ressources. Hank is more of the loser type, unable to sustain his daughter’s desire for school excursions and the regular payments to his ex-wife. But pretty enough so that his sister-in-law appreciates the weekly shag. Brother Andy suggests drastic measures to relieve the home-grown credit crunch: a break-in into a jewellers’ store to get rid of their worries once and for all. Everthing goes wrong, people are dying, and all families of everybody concerend suffer severe blows.

It is somehow frightening how Philip Seymor Hoffman establishes himself the epicentre of any movie I have seen with him over the last 10 years. There is always so much more energy and naturalness about his performances that there is always a danger of the other cast drowing next to him. “Before the devil…” takes this fact and uses it by contracsting him with Ethan Hawke, whose slightly frantic helplessness explains immediately why he is in for any suggestion his big brother comes up with – he would not be able to come up with his own.

As crazy as the initial idea is to rob their own parents’ shop is, Hank’s panic not to be able to pull it off makes him bring in a hopeless thug with a gun. The way the film narrates this culmination of calamity is backwards, and while I was wondering whether this editing trick is strictly necessary, it works well and is a nice effect to leapfrog beackwards in certain instances and learn more about some other characters build-up to the heist and the aftermath. How much it is a family film (a film about a family) gets clear towards the end, when the boys’ father, battered by fate and (slightly illogically) arriving at the end of his quest to solve some crime riddle, gets the center stage and has to decide on behalf of both kids what the right way would be to clear up the mess. Not a nice solution he comes up with, but a very logical and plesantly non-compromising one.

Ebert’s Review here.

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