Saturday, 30 May 2015

Alternate Best Actor 2007: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Philip Seymour Hoffman did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Andy Hanson in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead is a worthy swan song for director Sidney Lumet, which tells the story of two brothers who decide to rob their own parents' jewelry store to solve their financial problems.

The younger brother is Hank (Ethan Hawke) whose problems are quite obvious to see right the surface with his icy relationship with his ex-wife as well as the way she constantly bothers him about child support payments, which he clearly cannot afford. In the early scenes it appears as though Hank is the screw up brother and Andy is the successful one with his apparently high paying job and trophy wife. Hoffman supports this with his performance in his early scenes with Hawke as he seems so stable and confidant compared to Hawke's Hank who wears his troubles on his sleeve. This even continues though when Andy first tells Hank about the idea to solve all of Hank's fiduciary troubles. Hoffman carries himself with a cool confidence, or at least it seems that way compared to Hank. Hoffman even builds up Andy a bit as seemingly a bit of a mastermind as he tells Hank about the jewelery robbery as though he's this career criminal who knows exactly what he's doing. Well it certainly seems this way and Hoffman makes it wholly believable that he would get Hank to go along with his odd plan.

There is more to Hank and Andy in these scenes then just the contrast in terms of their current mental states. Hoffman and Hawke are absolutely terrific in the chemistry they strike up in these scenes, even though the two technically are focused on the plan. What the two do so well is create the unsaid relationship with the brothers. They are not excessively warm together, nor is there a constant tension or anything like that either. There's nothing that simple about their relationship and that is what makes it so special. There is a bit of that old brother supportive quality that Hoffman brings even if it is not genuine per se, Hoffman just has that certain look he gives Hawke that an older brother gives to his kid brother, that's developed over their childhood. On top of that though I just like the casual quality in the way they speak to each other. Their ease, even when discussing serious matters, feels honest to brothers. I particularly love when Andy forces Hank to agree to the plan with his hands in the air to ensure he's not crossing his fingers, and in the way Hoffman asks it feels as though his scheme is just a childhood prank.

Of course it's not a prank although it seems so easy according to Andy who does seem so sure, except perhaps a brief moment where he says it needs to be soon. Hoffman does not let it out too much, as Andy would not want to do in front of Hank, but his own palatable insecurity is felt in the moment. There is far more to that though as we are given Andy's perspective leading up to the robbery. We have his home life with his wife (Marisa Tomei) where Hoffman keeps Andy's style as the successful businessman, but there's a hollowness in his interactions with her. Hoffman shows that he acts as he should, but it just never feels real. When he is alone there is something real though as Hoffman brings such terrible unease to Andy as he is in work, and hears about a company audit. This will uncover his embezzlement that he's been using for heroine, an element in this film that is even sadder in hindsight. Hoffman is harrowing in these scenes as he portrays Andy at his most honest. There is such a remarkable vulnerability as he reveals how sensitive the man truly is, but can only reveal himself to his uncaring drug dealer, since the dealer already knows him.

Well as shown in the very first scene of the film the robbery goes as wrong for the brothers as the robbery possibly could go since it results in neither of them getting the money as well as their mother being killed by the thug used by Hank to handle the robbery. Hoffman is heartbreaking as he shows just how torn Andy is over the guilt in causing his own mother's death, but again Hoffman only reveals this when Andy is alone. The death also forces Andy to face his relationship with his father (Albert Finney). Hoffman is very interesting as he brings a slightly different manner as Andy interacts with his father. He's brow beaten and meek as he speaks to him, with an official tone effectively alluding to the distant relationship. When his father apologizes for his treatment in the past this leads to Andy's only emotional breakdown in front of his wife. It's a fantastic scene for Hoffman as he only let's out so much yet so intensely as he suggest that his relationship with his father is one thing that he can't hide. Hoffman portrays the leak of emotion as especially powerful since Andy's always been trying to hold it in.

The botched robbery not only fails to fix Andy's problems but only creates more of them leaving Andy slowly growing worse. There is one great moment where Andy's wife reveals she's been having an affair, and Hoffman is downright brilliant. He does not breakdown, even after she tells him that it's Hank. This might seem an odd reaction in Hoffman's performance but it's not. Instead he plays it as letting one more problem seep underneath Andy's skin, as he still tries to maintain his position as the respectable man he has to be. It's all too much though and Hoffman is outstanding in the way he has Andy being ripped apart from within. In his eyes one can see every wear from his life, as Hoffman shows that Andy's calm facade is about to break. When it does finally break, in a final sequence where Andy takes insane measure to try to fix every problem, Hoffman is amazing. It's disconcerting as Hoffman portrays how Andy's over the edge now as he's completely overwhelmed to the point of madness. Hoffman earns this in how well he built to this but as well in the moment as Hoffman presents Andy as a mess. Hoffman is chilling though by creating such a danger in the violent emotions as Andy's plan involves several murders. Everything in Hoffman's performance reflects Andy's state as he stumbles around in a rage, and even the way he shoots the people carries such desperation. Hoffman is heartbreaking as he realizes a man falling apart. His rampage is finally put to a stop leaving in the hospital and one last scene with his father. Hoffman is surprisingly moving as he finally has Andy genuinely opening himself up to someone in his family, revealing the vulnerability that was always there, and the sad little man he had always been.


koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

Ratings and thoughts on, well you know.

Matt Mustin said...

Amazing performance, although one that's almost impossible to watch now.

Michael McCarthy said...

Louis, have you seen Hoffman in The Savages? If not, are you planning on watching it before the results?

Louis Morgan said...


Hawke - 4.5(Very underrated here I think, although Hawke often is underrated there's that odd hate he gets sometimes. Hawke's performance though acts as a very effective counterpoint to Hoffman's since his problems are much more in the open. Hawke's very good in the way he gives much more honesty to Hank as his emotions are always far more earnest, and even when he's being duplicitous himself Hawke portrays this as a very difficult thing for him to do)

Tomei - 2(On re-watch her performance really aged poorly for me. I believe she was trying to play the part as a very shallow woman, but the manner in which did this seemed very off to me)

O'Byrne - 3(He does well in giving enough of a human being there to create more than just a disposable thug)

Shannon - 3(A nice bit of intense sleaze as one would expect from him)


I've seen it.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts/ratings on Hoffman/Linney in the Savages, Louis?

Anonymous said...

Louis, so is now Wallis for Beasts of the Southern Wild a 4? I'm asking this because you put her above Hunt, Lawrence and Mirren who you previously said were all 4s. Also, do you think that Jennifer Lawrence is supporting in Silver Linings Playbook? And, lastly, what are your ratings and thoughts on Marion Cotillard in Midnight in Paris?

Anonymous said...

Louis, what is your rating for Pacino in Scarecrow? And your thought on his performance?

luke higham said...

Louis: Is Chastain down to a 4 for The Tree Of Life.

Calvin Law said...

In response to your previous question Louis...Donald Sutherland getting an Oscar nomination is alas a lost cause now :( I still sincerely hope he gets one but based on the stuff he's doing, not much of a chance. Also what would your thoughts/ratings be for the chap who played the Vietnamese priest in Seven Psychopaths?

Lastly, are my requests as GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar (Ralph Richardson in The Four Feathers, Jimmy Stewart in The Shop Around the Corner, Robert Duvall in To Kill a Mockingbird) still valid?

Also, great performance by PSH here.

Calvin Law said...

Also Louis what's your ranking of Sidney Lumet's films?

luke higham said...

Louis: Can you repost your ratings for Gina Gershon and Linda Bright Clay.

Calvin: I don't think Louis's that cruel. :)

Anonymous said...

Would this be your favorite PSH's performance, Louis?

And, based on your 2012 lead and supporting actress ranks, you haven't seen Rust and Bone yet, right? Well, for me, at least, Cotillard's performance there is the best female one of that year, lead or supporting, whatever one considers it (rewatching, I became sure it's lead).

Calvin Law said...

@Michael McCarthy: Ratings for the cast of Far From the Madding Crowd?

Anonymous: I agree, lead though I guess an argument could be made for supporting

Michael McCarthy said...

Mulligan: 4.5
Schoenarts: 4
Sheen: 4.5
Sturridge: 2.5

luke higham said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the latest episode of Game Of Thrones.

luke higham said...

Anonymous: I think his performance in The Master, is still gonna be his number one.

Calvin Law said...

@Michael: I'm glad we both agree that Sturridge was lackluster. I liked Schoenarts quite a bit more than you but otherwise I think we pretty much seem to agree.

Louis Morgan said...


Hoffman - 4(I have to admit the film did very little for me. I just did not find it particularly funny or particularly moving. I won't fault the performances for that though. Hoffman strikes up a believable sibling chemistry with Linney, and he is well in doing his pseudo intellectual routine, who's rather unsure of himself as well)

Linney - 4(Again she worked well with Hoffman. She does well here since she's able to maintain a certain believability with her kinda comedic desperation that defines her character. Linney does not overplay it and manages to make it seem honest for her character. It's a good performance even if I don't love it)


I thought I gave Wallis a 4 to begin. Well that's what she should have been anyways. Yes I do believe Lawrence is supporting in Silver Linings even though just barely. I thought I gave my thoughts on Cotillard but I'd give her a 4.5.


Check on Pacino I thought I gave my thoughts before.


No the other two are up I suppose.

4.5 and 4


It's the Vietnamese guy - 3.5(It's a good performance as he brings so much rage and intensity in the scenes as the violent Vietcong. Then in the twist ending version of the character he's quite moving in showing a far more somber yet equally palatable determination)

Yes your requests are still valid.


1. The Hill
2. Dog Day Afternoon
3. The Verdict
4. Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
5. Network
6. 12 Angry Men
7. Fail Safe
8. The Deadly Affair
9. The Offence
10. The Pawnbroker
11. Serpico
12. Running on Empty
13. Prince of the City
14. Murder on The Orient Express
15. Death Trap
16. Equus
17. The Morning After
18. Q & A


The Master


Haven't seen Rust and Bones.

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