REVIEW: “The Devil All the Time” (2020)

DEVILposter

A star-studded cast drives director Antonio Campos’ period crime thriller “The Devil All the Time”. His film is an adaptation of Donald Ray Pollack’s 2011 novel about a contrasting yet inextricably linked group of people in rural Ohio and West Virginia. The movie’s scope is broad (probably too broad) and you may need a notepad to keep up with the myriad of damaged characters. Yet there is a fascinating element to the film that keeps you engaged even as you realize Campos bit off a little more than he could chew.

Pollock serves as the movie’s narrator, bouncing us along the film’s grim and unpleasant timeline, making stops in places like Coal Creek, West Virginia and Knockemstiff, Ohio. The story starts with glimpses of the final days of World War II, moves to the mid-1950’s, and then wraps up in the Vietnam War era. It not only follows two generations of the small town Russell family, but also the many people they’re either linked to or encounter along the way. So as you can see there is a ton of ground to cover even with a 138 minutes of running time.

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Photo Courtesy of Netflix

The film’s central character is Arvin Russell, played as a nine-year-old by Michael Banks Repeta and then later by Spider-Man himself Tom Holland. Campos (who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Paulo) begins by reflecting on Arvin’s tumultuous childhood. His father Willard (an intense Bill Skarsgård) was a South Pacific war veteran who suffered from PTSD. Willard was a hardened man who taught Arvin that sometimes you must fight violence with violence, a lesson that would stick with his son.

Willard also had a gnarled perspective on faith, one influenced more by the atrocities he witnessed on the battlefield than the words of a well-versed preacher. He becomes obsessed with prayer especially after his wife and Arvin’s mother Charlotte (Haley Bennett) is diagnosed with cancer. It’s not hard to see the road signs to tragedy. Arvin soon finds himself living with his grandmother Emma (Kristin Griffith), bringing with him a childhood of psychological trauma.

You would think that alone would be enough story for a two-hour movie. But that only cracks the shell of what “Devil” seeks to cover. We meet Arvin’s new step-sister Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), a child with her own brutal parental tragedy who is adopted by Emma. Lenora is the film’s closest portrait of innocence. Much like her mother Helen (played in earlier scenes by Mia Wasikowska), Lenora is kind, gentile, and devout. Arvin makes it his purpose to protect her from the world and all of its ugliness.

And there are so many more players. Jason Clarke and Riley Keough play Carl and Sandy, a pervy serial-killing couple targeting hitchhikers. Sebastian Stan plays a shady sheriff who’s more interested in his re-election than law and order. Harry Melling has a brief yet creepy role as Lenora’s father and a psycho preacher wannabe. And a scene-chomping, scene-stealing Robert Pattinson arrives around the midway mark playing Reverend Preston Teagardin. Out of all of the English and Australians working their best American drawls, Pattinson’s is the most entertaining. He brings an accentuated southern flavor along with a bit of camp. There’s no real depth to his character, but Pattinson makes him interesting.

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Photo Courtesy of Netflix

It should be said that it’s not just Pattinson who impresses. The film’s biggest strength is its cast and the performances are outstanding top to bottom. Those who only know Holland from his web-slinging MCU gig will be surprised at the range he shows here. Meanwhile talents like Pattinson, Keough, and Clarke have to work a little harder with the thinly sketched characters they are given.

“The Devil all the Time” is a cold and relentless tale of human depravity with hardly a glimmer of light. And the few instances of hope (and I do mean FEW) are usually planted just so they can be squashed. It tells a story driven by characters ranging from deeply flawed to all-out evil and each are forced to drink Campos’ bitter cocktail of violence and religious distortion. It’s hard to find much meaning in at all other than violence begets violence and false religion is bad. But the casting is spot-on and Campos serves up just enough to keep us nibbling all the way through. If only I didn’t leave still hungry. “The Devil all the Time” is streaming now on Netflix.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3-stars

28 thoughts on “REVIEW: “The Devil All the Time” (2020)

  1. Pattison’s been busy! What with Tenet, this, and I just saw him the other night in the marvelous Netflix “King”. He was hysterical as a flamboyant French ruler. I enjoyed his performance in The Lighthouse, too.

  2. I really liked this. I was worried after early reviews but I didn’t need to be. I thought Holland was wonderful, all the actors were. I just wanted to hug Arvin at the end of it.

    • Holland is really good. He shows an exciting range. I’m with you, liked all of the cast. They really made it a movie to recommend. It just tries to cover soooo much ground.

    • It’s such a hard movie to review because there are things about it I love. The cast is fantastic and I was never bored. It just tries to cover too much ground and some of the characters get shortchanged. Also, don’t expect to be uplifted. It’s a dark, bleak movie. Still, I’m kinda fascinated with it.

  3. Good review for a movie that really is going to be a tough one to talk about while making a coherent explanation! This gave me oh-so-faint Place Beyond the Pines-in-the-deep-south vibes. The intersecting/generational timelines, the way Campos deploys his super-studded cast like chest pieces on this huge board. I definitely admired this movie, but man is it bleak and depressing.

    • The casting is great, isn’t it? It’s really a tough movie to process. Even harder to grade. I liked writing about it a lot more than figuring out a score.

  4. So cool that Pollack narrates; can’t wait to hear it. As I mentioned before I read all 3 of his books (Knockemstiff was the first, then Devil All the Time)in chronological order and all are subversive fiction, upon Chuck Palahniuk’s (Fight Club) recommendation. Cannot wait to see how the novel translates to the screen. Your review has me thinking that it was at least OK. Guess what I’ll be watching tonight 🙂

    • It’s definitely one I recommend. I was just telling someone else that it was a lot easier to write about it than it was figuring out a star score. The flaws are noticeable. But it’s fascinating to watch these characters. And the performances are top-notch.

  5. ‘“The Devil all the Time” is a cold and relentless tale of human depravity with hardly a glimmer of light.’

    Well gee, you paint such an appealing picture. i’m finding as I get older that I mostly want upbeat in the shows I watch, versus downbeat. Not exclusively, but sheesh, I like to see at least a little something positive by the end.

  6. the title reminds me of a film directed by Sidney Lumet ‘ Before the devil knows you’re dead’. it’s also not a very hopeful story but its well made and stars Ethan Hawke, Seymour Hoffman, and Albert Finney.

  7. My wife and I really enjoyed this but it was difficult to keep up with who was who until it all came together. Didn’t help we had to keep pausing and turning it off due to 100 disruptions. But the last hour or so as it all connected we thought it was interesting and overall a good movie.

    • It is interesting and the characters kept me glued to it. I just wish we got to know a bit more about some of them. Of course you could argue that the movie would then be 3 hours long. To be honest, I would be OK with that. It’s such a bleak yet fascinating world.

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