The Devil All the Time

Review by Rich Cline | 3.5/5

The Devil All the Time
dir Antonio Campos
scr Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
prd Randall Poster, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riva Marker, Max Born
with Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Bill Skarsgard, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska, Harry Melling, Pokey LaFarge, Douglas Hodge
release US/UK 16.Sep.20
20/US Netflix 2h18

pattinson keough wasikowska

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A sprawling narrative links backwoods communities in Ohio and West Virginia with events that are infused with faith and violence. Based on the Donald Ray Pollock novel, the film maintains a complex literary scale and structure, augmented by director Antonio Campos' intense visual flourishes. Watching it is like binging a grisly rural crime miniseries with so many intriguing characters and plot-strands that we're not quite sure where to look.
In 1957, traumatised veteran Willard (Skarsgard) pleads with God to save his kind wife (Bennett) from cancer. He also inadvertently teaches their son Arvin (Holland) to be both righteous and violent. This makes Arvin determined to protect his step-sister Lenora (Scanlen) from bullies, and later he becomes dubious about flashy new preacher Preston (Pattinson), for good reason. Even more dangerous are Carl and Sandy (Clarke and Keough), driving around seducing and killing young male hitchhikers. Sandy's sheriff brother Lee (Stan) is beginning to suspect something. And Arvin is on a collision course with them.
The film's epic length allows it to cycle back to provide backstories for each character, including traumas, suicides, courtships and a wide range of tragedies. Plus memorable side figures like Lenora's parents, the orphaned Helen (Wasikowska) and wild-eyed preacher Roy (Melling), who performs faith-testing stunts with disabled guitarist Theodore (LaFarge). But even though everyone is related to each other in some way, the elements don't all slot together coherently.

Among these vividly detailed characters, Holland is excellent in a darker than usual performance as a young man who learned too many awful lessons from his tortured father. It's a thoughtful, complex turn that gets under the skin. Keough is a standout as a smart woman feeling doubts about her actions. And Pattison steals the show as the silver-tongued, predatory reverend who makes even the most insane ideas seem reasonable. Every role in this story offers plenty for this skilled ensemble to chew on.

Blinded by misguided beliefs, these people do all manner of horrific things to each other, from sexual assault to murder. Most characters have a warped idea of love, and their understanding of Christianity is downright delusional, even as it informs their decisions. So moments of justice are accidental. At its core, this is the moving journey of a young man trying to make sense of events that shaped him and continue to haunt him. Perhaps a more clear-eyed point of view would have allowed the audience to more effectively identify with him.

cert 18 themes, language, violence, sexuality 16.Sep.20

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