Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead opens with one hell of a flourish. No sooner have the lights gone down than you’re greeted with the spectacle of Philip Seymour Hoffman vigorously fucking Marisa Tomei from behind. Hoffman is watching the coupling in a floor-to-ceiling mirror; the effect is not much less sordid than the similar scene in American Psycho. (Tomei goes on to, essentially, spend her screen time in the next few reels of the film topless — with the sudden arrival of this, Feast of Love, American Gangster, Into the Wild and In the Valley of Elah, not to mention the towel-free shenanigans of Viggo Mortenson in Eastern Promises, it looks like I picked the wrong year to start complaining about a lack of nudity on the part of Hollywood movies.) Their furious, awkward rutting behavior is sort of a metaphor for the whole film, which is about a certain animalistic low-mindedness and love of money — behavior that stinks like a rotting carcass. After a first-reel heist-gone-wrong sequence, the action rachets down somewhat, but much blood (along with some other bodily fluids) will be spilled once the film starts cranking again toward its Shakespearean conclusion.
Ladies and gentlemen, Sidney Lumet has entered the building, and he wants you to know he’s still a badass.