Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

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Before The Devil Knows You're Dead

Carter Burwell's Notes

I had never met Sidney Lumet before he contacted me about replacing the score to this film. Sidney felt that the original score (which I haven't heard) wasn't working and that the music needed to tell the audience more about the characters. I took this advice seriously because Lumet does not slather on the underscore like most American directors. Indeed, as he reminded me, many of his best films have no score, like "Network" and "Dog Day Afternoon". In this case the film is a family melodrama wrapped in a crime drama.

There are a few good points in replacing a score, even as one must feel sympathy for the composer who's been replaced. First, everyone is a step closer to knowing what works. Second, there is no time for vague exploration. In this case the music was written and recorded in about three weeks - not such a terrible schedule as they go.

Carter at console
Carter at the console

Cleaving to the idea of melodrama, the score is not shy about playing the plot as the characters quickly become slaves to its events. I almost always prefer to underplay a film rather than overplay (viz "No Country For Old Men" with no perceptible score), but in this case Sidney felt we should not be shy about the "melodrama" and so the score sounds a bit overwrought at first - at least to me. The theme which opens the film in the manner of a "crime drama" comes eventually to play the recriminations of the family. Another theme plays Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman's character), who in many ways is the driving force behind the implosion of this family, and as such I wanted the audience to sympathize with him. The ride they take with him will be all the more appalling if we feel for him. And the awful ride is what the film is all about.

Carter Burwell and Sidney Lumet at 2007 New York Film Festival
Carter Burwell and Sidney Lumet at 2007 New York Film Festival

 

Film Info

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Kelly Masterson
Produced by Michael Cerenzie and Brian Linse

Composed, Orchestrated and Conducted by Carter Burwell
Music Scoring Mixer: Mike Farrow
Contractor: Sandy Park
Recorded and Mixed at Clinton Recording

Starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Albert Finney, Marisa Tomei.

U.S. Release October, 2007

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney
Philip Seymour Hoffman and
Albert Finney
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke
Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke

Reviews

"As pessimistic as it is — you have to squint hard to find the barest flicker of redemption in its denouement — 'Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead' is also curiously exhilarating. Some of this comes from the simple thrill of witnessing something, or rather everything, done well. Even the overwrought performances — Mr. Finney’s growls, Mr. Hawke’s twitches — have integrity and conviction. This is a melodrama, after all, and its lifeblood is in the manic acting, just as surely as it is in the plaintive horns of Carter Burwell’s score. " - A. O. Scott, New York Times, Oct. 26, 2007.

"... Lumet's sophisticated understanding of the material extends to the soundtrack, which doesn't try to enlist a subjective response but is used to create distance. Composer Carter Burwell doesn't underscore most scenes. The music is used mainly in the transitions between scenes, as a sardonic or rueful commentary on what has gone before. Everything supports an overall vision. Everything is of a piece." - Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 2, 2007

"Carter Burwell’s music is a noteworthy element of the film, partially because Lumet is famous for leaving so many of his films unscored or featuring minimal score..." - Clark Douglas, Movie Music UK, Oct. 26, 2007.

"...Carter Burwell, who has done wonderful, ironically charged music for the Coen brothers, contributes a score that is oddly routine and overtly melodramatic." - Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, Nov. 2, 2007.

Marisa Tomei
Marisa Tomei
Carter conducts
Carter conducts
(photo by Brian Linse)
Mike Farrow + Carter Burwell
Mike Farrow + Carter Burwell
(photo by Brian Linse)
Sidney Lumet counsels exhausted composer
Carter Burwell and Sidney Lumet
(photo by Brian Linse)
CB stick
Carter conducts
(photo by Brian Linse)
Sidney Lumet and Carter Burwell
Sidney Lumet and Carter Burwell
(photo by Brian Linse)
Hawke Hoffman Lumet
Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Sidney Lumet
Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney
Sidney Lumet and Albert Finney