Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman - The Savages) and Hank (Ethan Hawke - Lord of War) may not look like it but they are in fact brothers one with a drug habit to fund and the other with a divorced wife and child to support. It is why they come up with a foolproof plan to rob a mom & pop style jewellery store where no one gets hurt, they get 60k each after fencing of the jewels and the owners can claim on the insurance. That is until of course things go wrong with tragic consequences.
I have tried to keep the detail to that synopsis of "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" down to a minimum because this is a movie which works on you not knowing things before hand. It not only works on you not knowing things but it plays out in a disjointed manner so that as it goes along you are constantly left with questions which are answered shortly after. What that means is that "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" gets your attention, playing on that need to understand and know which means what is almost a straightforward crime gone wrong storyline ends up more interesting.
But whilst director Sidney Lumet's approach to "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" works in such that each chunk of story leaves you with questions it also becomes a novelty which at times is annoying. I say that because there are some scenes which end up coming across as being contrived because of the way they are suddenly thrust upon us.
On the subject of thrusting "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" also likes to shock with sex scenes from the opening scene which sees Andy and his wife played by Marisa Tomei going at it in bed to a later scene which features a topless Tomei again. And the shocks also includes scenes of drug use from snorting coke to injections which now have a sad resonance following actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's death due to drugs.
That brings me to the acting and "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" benefits from having an exceptionally good cast which alongside Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Marisa Tomei also includes Rosemary Harris, Albert Finney and Michael Shannon. These are all actors who know how to deliver characters, deliver dialogue and interact with each other on a real level which makes every scene attention grabbing because of how wonderfully acted it they all are.
Now as I said I believe that "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is best watched with as little knowledge of what happens. But what I will say is that the first half of the movie in its intentionally disjointed way builds up to the events of the robbery the second half examines the consequences bringing a more emotional level to things as well as tying up some of the scenes from the first half.
What this all boils down to is that "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is easily a better than average movie with an entertaining idea, entertaining style as well as an entertaining cast. The only negative is that when it comes to the intentionally disjointed story telling it occasionally becomes a novelty.