The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★★★

'The Devil All The Time' played to me as if Terrence Malick developed a liking for film noir, swallowed a pill to gain access to a hitherto untapped reservoir of batshittery and turned himself loose. The Terrence Malick comparison is, i think, an apposite one. For a start, you have the 'Badlands'-style killing spree wrought by a sociopath and a less comprehending woman caught in his wake. You've got the 1950's setting and its attendant visual totems from 'The Tree of Life'. Moreover, Antonio Campos seems to have taken from Malick, on a macro level, the theme of the cyclical nature of violence and how it steals into a natural world that ultimately just keeps on trucking, an omnipresent element in both 'The Thin Red Line' and 'A Hidden Life'.

'The Devil All The Time' is not perfect. But to be honest, movies with this much going on, this kind of reach in terms of timespan, number of characters, length and ambition often find it tricky to keep all their richness unified under one roof. There's a brief flashback of the violent father during a similarly violent interlude involving his son that tells us nothing thematically or symbolically about the cyclical nature of violence that Campos hasn't already arrived at organically. The Sebastian Stan bribery/corrupt cop edge of the main storyline doesn't grip like the rest of the film. And, in order to get all his narrative ducks in a row and unify the story strands that he's juggled for two hours, Campos has to rely on some coincidences involving particular characters being in a convenient place at a convenient time, which will strike some viewers as an almighty reach.

But never mind, everyone involved is clearly rising to the occasion. Especially the cast. Eliza Scanlan has, with this coming straight after 'Little Women', now seemingly cornered the market in doomed purity. Tom Holland is clearly relishing being liberated from the Marvel factory, and turns in the best performance of his career. How ironic that he seems to convey more threat and power as an orphaned backwoods blue-collar youth here than he does as a superhero. And as for Robert Pattinson, he's now starting to, and I mean this as a compliment, come over like early Nicolas Cage, in that he swings big every time at bat. Fresh from battering a poor seagull to death and walking around Willem Dafoe around on a lead like a dog in 'The Lighthouse', that actually qualifies as modest restraint compared to his turn here.

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