Recently released from prison, Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps), a recovering alcoholic, is looking for a fresh start. He comes from a steadfast family, consisting of four flatly outlined siblings, who worry about his well-being. But it’s his brother Drew (William Catlett), unemployed, alone and hanging out in a bad crowd, who is of concern.
Written and directed by Charles Murray, “The Devil You Know” is a grim crime and family drama that struggles to find a cohesive tone. It begins with a jarring one-shot of three robbers infiltrating a quaint suburban home. Two occupants are murdered, another lies in a coma. At Drew’s apartment, Marcus discovers a notebook of valuable baseball cards, which was allegedly stolen from the vandalized house. Could her stoic brother be capable of the heinous violence that occurred in the house?
Aimless and incoherent, the film maps the “no good deed” trope to Marcus. He fills the police in on Drew’s shady associates. The move results in Marcus’ devoted father (Glynn Turman) having a heart attack and his loving girlfriend (Erica Tazel) leaving him. It also leads to Joe (Michael Ealy), a fastidious detective, knocking on his door.
The soft-spoken Epps is frustrating. Geofrey Hildrew and Scott Pellet’s editing limps lifeless, and the direction lacks the momentum needed for a story with more twists and turns than a low-budget soap opera. The film teases a confrontation between Marcus and Joe, culminating in an encounter reminiscent of Michael Mann’s “Heat.” But the oblique framing, undermining veteran actors, only reminds viewers what “The Devil You Know” is not.
the devil you know
Rated R for violence and intense language. Duration: 1h56. In theaters.