Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) -vs- A Simple Plan (1998)

Mark Sanchez, Featured WriterThe Smackdown

Blood is thicker than water means, of course, that family counts more than anything else. Here are a couple of movies where the blood is also bloodier.

From Cain and Abel to Michael and Fredo Corleone the fractious relations between siblings offer a sturdy platform for greed, jealousy and the scramble for personal redemption.

Those elements play out with startling consequences in Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan. It’s a strong cautionary tale about self-interest spinning out of control. Now, Director Sidney Lumet strides onto the screen with a different take on similar themes, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead. That’s our Smackdown: Which set of movie brothers shows the stronger grip on Larceny and Loose Ends?

The Challenger

Charles and Nannette Hanson (Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris) operate a suburban jewelry store which becomes a target for their predatory son, Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman). He’s deeply in debt and crafts a scheme to rob the store and avoid any bloodshed. Andy can’t pull off this caper on his own, so he enlists an unwilling partner, his younger brother Hank (Ethan Hawke). Hank faces a different sort of financial calamity. Hank recruits a hired gun to help pull off the big score. Below surface appearances the brothers share a mutual resentment — and Andy’s wife, Gina (Marisa Tomei). The scheme goes straight to hell and so do Andy’s messy efforts to cover his tracks. Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead shows Andy  —  and us  —  that some people will not forgive or forget.

The Champion

Nothing happens simply for Hank and Jacob (Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton) Mitchell in A Simple Plan. These brothers along with a drunken pal stumble onto the wreckage of a snow-covered airplane. In the cabin they find a dead pilot and four million dollars in cash. They grab the money, ignore the pilot and agree to stay silent while leaving the wreck for someone else to discover. All three have more need for the money than patience. Piece by piece the simple plan unravels with deadly results. Everyone who survives is diminished in this screenplay Scott B. Smith adapted from his novel.

The Scorecard

Both films benefit from strong casting: Blly Bob Thornton is especially effective as Hank Mitchell’s slow minded brother Jacob. He envies the life Hank has and he cannot. Hank and his wife, Sarah (Bridget Fonda)  blame Jacob’s bumbling with jeopardizing their lives. Kelly Masterson’s script for Before the Devil makes the Hanson brothers uncomfortable to watch: Andy resents Hank for the better treatment he received from their parents. Hank shows his resentment by sleeping with Andy’s wife. In both movies the action is well staged and crisply paced. A happy ending evades both movies  and both directors show their storytelling skill at a very high level.

Since both movies have many structural similarities  — is there enough margin to say one has a better handle on Larceny and Loose Ends?  Yes.

The Decision

A Simple Plan is a dandy film with two Oscar nominations and a slew of other awards. Director Sam Raimi (The Spiderman trilogy, Darkman, The Gift) shows a dramatic flair and Simple Plan is a solid addition to a growing body of work.

For now, it falls short of the prodigious artistic reach of Sidney Lumet. From his early TV and film work Lumet earned a reputation for working well with his actors. They rewarded him with performances that stand with the best in film: Twelve Angry Men,  The Pawnbroker, Network, Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon, The Verdict, Prince of the City. With standout ensemble performances from Hoffman, Finney, Hawke and Tomei you can lengthen that list with our winner, “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead.”

About Mark Sanchez 81 Articles
Oregon based media and communications consultant Mark Sanchez is on the fifth or sixth step of his recovery program from his career as a television news reporter. And that’s the way it is. Mark has been an Oregonian since the Reagan administration and shows no signs of leaving. He lives in Portland — a city that is famous for its transit system, its rain, its independent film community and, lately, for the TV series Portlandia, which Mark notes is about half-true, but to protect confidential sources he won’t say which half.

2 Comments on Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007) -vs- A Simple Plan (1998)


  1. Good movie ..


  2. Mark Sanchez should be writing for The New York Times. Either that, or the world should be exposed to these Smackdowns. He’s great.

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