A film filled with A-list ensemble cast such as Rian Johnson’s ‘Knives Out’ (2019), Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ (2015) or Wes Anderson’s ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014) would create an anticipation of joy when the film is being announced. But never had a spark of joy crossed my mind when I heard Spider-man (Tom Holland), the new Batman (Robert Pattinson), IT (Bill Skasgard), and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) united in order to face their faith, resisting temptation by the devil in Southern North America. With its interesting theme, I’m definitely on the ride. Only to find out that the jumbled core, despite the highest effort made by its cast and crew, prevented it from being another near-masterpiece to be seen in the new decade.
To describe a simple logline for The Devil All the Time would seem impossible. But for simplicity’s sake, it tells the story of a young man, Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), who needs to fight and protect his family as sinister characters converge around him, driven with evil that threatens him and his family. But the film never focuses around him, keep changing the character perspective and even time back and forth that could make the audience lose if they’re not concentrating enough. Fear not as most the characters were written right to grip the audience into the story. And even if they’re not (as some are) the performances are beyond the expectations to widen your eyes.
Tom Holland had proven to be one of the best young actors working to this date, managing to break the accent even though he’s a boy from Kingston. In ‘The Devil All the Time’, he took it to another level, hitting the ball out of the park with a southern accent. And he just carries a dark side of emotion that the audience would never thought he could do. Fascinating, really. Robert Pattinson, playing as a narcissistic priest, also nailed the accent perfectly. While sometimes it seems over-the-top, it is the intention and what made his character feel uneasy. Sebastian Stan as a corrupted cop also felt fresh after the continuous role in MCU. Other cast such as Bill Skasgard, Jason Clarke, Riley Keough and more create color in the grim tale even if most of them didn’t pass the 15-minute mark of appearance. In conclusion, all the actors are perfectly casted.
The Devil All The Time dark yet realistic setting might not provide the room to include a unique visual style. Nevertheless, the technical aspects are enough to give the film soul. Production design department successfully bringing back the nostalgia of 1940s to the 1960s America from cars to the houses. Cinematographer Lol Crawley gave the film full of uncomfortable close-ups and long takes while the character acted in demeanor. The music sets the tone of the film with low, or sometimes high pitch that can’t help you trying to turn away, but can’t due to its visuals and characters.
While most of the characters are well-developed, if not interesting enough to follow, not all were treated the same. The film itself, personally speaking, is divided into 3 segments of perspective. The main one involving Arvin is the most eye-pleasing between the three. However, segments involving Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) and Sheriff Bodecker (Sebastian Stan) is an unsuccessful attempt of diversion. They provide an intriguing personality, but fail to connect the story, being misplaced until when everything is connected. Sheriff Bodecker’s arc especially, is a useless subplot that could be trimmed down for pacing issues (although it would result in the third act being less mad). It could be seen that the director and writer Antonio Campos are trying to be as faithful as possible with Donald Ray Pollock’s novel. However, it just elicits under the shade of the already critically acclaimed novel, especially in terms of theme.
The film failed to raise the core of the novel, the faith and religion in the center. There are some religious imagery and devices presented such as the cross, church, bible, and priests. But it all just got lost into excessive and gruesome violence, squinting the audience and turning away from moments such as a dog being crucified in the woods. Or even worse, an unrelated murder of cut gentialia. It’s not a compelling violence full of meaning, but an unnecessary one to shock the audience already in the midst of the presence of psychotic characters everywhere. There’s the effort, but it’s just too shallow for the treasure to be revealed under the surface.
In the end, at least personally, I received what I want. To see an ensemble cast revealing their dark side that I never expected to see with some intriguing characters. However, it is still considered as a disappointment that the script and pacing hindered what the film might be, especially of how interesting the theme being discussed.