actors, directors, Film Spotlight, movies

PSH: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead


What do you make of an actor who played jerks, the morally decrepit, and the bizarre perfectly? Highly popular and respected. Since 1992, critics and fans have praised him when he stepped into the spotlight as the snobby-bully George Willis Jr., in Scent of a Woman. I laughed at him in Twister (1996) and admired him in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999). Considered a character actor for a good part of his career, he gained the respect of his colleagues by avoiding stock performances. He brought chemistry, sardonic wit, and authenticity to his characters; in short, his characters were believable and often raised the acting of his co-stars. Here’s an example from Cold Mountain (2003) where PSH plays the hypocritical preacher:

Cold Mountain is one of the best movies from the last twenty years. Hoffman’s dark, humorous performance added depth to the story while the outrageous personality of the preacher felt real. Devious characters became fascinating when Philip Seymour Hoffman was acting.  

There are director/actor relationships that seize a moment and define a decade. For example, DeNiro, DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese mutually benefited from their relationships. In Philip Seymour Hoffman’s case, his collaboration with director Paul Thomas Anderson was significant. Their films included: Hard Eight (1996), Boogie Nights (1997), Magnolia (1999), Punch-Drunk-Love (2002), and The Master(2013). While I do think actor Toby Jones was born for the role, PSH did a fine job as a giant version of Truman Capote in 2005 for which he won Best Actor at the Oscars.

Thank you, JORDAN for allowing me to contribute to the PSH Blogathon. I chose the 2007 crime drama written by Kelly Masterson  and directed by the late, great Sidney Lumet who deserves a tribute post all of his own. Some of my favorite films of his include: Twelve Angry Men (1957), Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962), Serpico (1973), Murder on the Orient Express (1974), Dog Day Afternoon (1975), and Network (1976). 

Leave it to the Irish to come up with this dark, humorous drinking toast: May you be in heaven for a half an hour before the devil knows you’re dead. I think it sums up the story perfectly. Can you escape from your sins?


Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead is a crime drama about two brothers who are in desperate need of cash. The older, clever brother is Andy Hanson (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who works as an accountant at a New York City firm while his cute brother Hank (Ethan Hawke) is submissive and bullied by an ex-wife and his brother. Hank is a loser; he can’t seem to get a financial grip on his life. He’s troubled by private school tuition payments for his daughter and hounded for three months back-pay in child support.

Andy makes a good case for committing a burglary. Andy has a heroin addiction to support and wants to escape the drudgery of a New York life and live easy in Rio with his sexy wife, Gina (Marisa Tormei), who pranced around half-naked and whose only function in the film is to be screwed by males with the last name of Hanson. It is not a role showcasing Tormei’s intellect; at least in The Gambler the character Cassidy showed off her T & A and had half a brain. I think Tormei can act, so it’s disappointing she is restricted to a superficial level set by the graphic, unnecessary opening scene. I blame Kelly Masterson’s screenplay for that. However, Tormei’s curves are much admired by many for my wagging finger to matter. She is the eye candy, and after all, the film is about the brothers.

The best aspect of the film is the outstanding acting by Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney (Sidney Lumet and Finney last worked together on Murder on the Orient Express) and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Andy’s logic is convincing enough to manipulate his brother and that’s important if the audience is going along for the ride. With a toy gun and full insurance to compensate the owners of the jewelry store, and a place Andy knows where he can unload the jewels for cash, it’s a full-proof plan and the perfect heist. Sure, I see his logic.

Now the film becomes a dark comedy. What kind of whack job is this? The owners of the jewelry store are his parents, Andy’s heroin supplier is brought into the scheme, and their grieving father sets out to find the perpetrators. Dramatic irony is one of my favorite rhetorical devices, and it works well here, adding a complex layer in the script. I liked the multi-angled editing to revisit a conversation from a different perspective. I also liked the over-exposed filter used during filming at key moments to stress their stark situation. If you like crime dramas, great acting, and dark humor, you’d love this Philip Seymour Hoffman film.


actors, authors, books, movies, writing

Truman Capote, In Cold Blood, PSH

Gerald Clarke’s 1988 biography, Capote, was a commercial success and inspired the film for which Philip Seymour Hoffman won an Oscar for Best Actor in the film in 2005, Capote.

The apex of Truman Capote’s career comes for inventing a new literary genre in the 1960s, with the creative non-fiction crime story, In Cold Blood which he co-wrote the script with director Richard Brooks and starred Robert Blake.

Truman Capote the Man

Truman Capote was eccentric. From Monroeville, Alabama, he grew up next door to Harper Lee—she later fictionalized Truman in her book To Kill a Mockingbird. There was nothing ordinary about Capote’s personality.  Sparkling and outlandish, his friendships with movie stars and the international élite made him a desirable addition to parties. Coupled with his witty intellect, his literary reputation, and his knowledge of gossip, he transformed himself into a charismatic character. The only person alive today who I can compare him to is Elton John.

Truman Capote was a product of his own big imagination stuffed into a 5’3 frame.  I recommend the biography by Gerald Clarke who interviewed him and created an authentic account before Truman’s passing in 1984 to liver disease.

Truman Capote was the one who wrote the book, Breakfast at Tiffany’s. He oversaw the iconic film starring Audrey Hepburn. He hated the butchering of his story but loved partying with the cast. However, it was the instant success of his non-fiction crime story, In Cold Blood, published in 1965 which sealed his literary notability. When Capote read of the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas, he traveled to the crime scene and recreated the events in a suspenseful narration.  He sat for weeks with the death row pair who shot and killed the family. Truman Capote put us in the minds of the ex-convict killers and the reader looked beyond the crime and saw them as human.  This creative non-fiction style was the first of its kind making Truman Capote famous.  The film version of In Cold Blood  was an excellent film.

Capote (2005)

The film Capote was a biopic of Gerald Clarke’s biography and focused on the events surrounding the creation of the book, In Cold Blood. Philip Seymour Hoffman was great in the film showing his versatility as an actor able to recreate an unusual person.  Actor Toby Jones was furious not to get the part complaining that Philip Seymour Hoffman wouldn’t pull it off since Hoffman was 5’10 and Toby Jones a more proper height at 5’3. Plus, Toby Jones is a fine actor and the spitting image of Truman Capote.

Regardless, Philip Seymour Hoffman captured the essence of the author and the top award at the Oscars.  Toby Zones got his own shot playing Capote in the 2006 version of the story called Infamous.

It’s a unique cluster of stories surrounding the amazing Truman Capote. I would recommend reading the biography, the book, and then watch PSH in the film and don’t forget the 1967 film In Cold Blood.  All stand on their own as solid entertainment.

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”   Truman Capote

What did you think of the book and the films?