The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★★½

"There's a whole lotta no-good sons-of-bitches out there."

The Devil All the Time easily ranked among the top 10 of my most anticipated films of the year even before its promising trailer was released, simply based on the amount of talent involved as well as the interesting premise and subject matter (a dark southern gothic tale? Count me in.)

The final result is an overlong psychological drama bound for divisiveness that would have really benefited from trimming down the less necessary moments in order to make the storytelling more focused. I liked almost all of the individual scenes in Antonio Campos' film, but the connecting line of storytelling fails to interweave this large cast ensemble in a way that would have made the plot more accessible.

The overall themes are rather obvious by looking at the trailer alone: it's about religion, about struggling with faith, about the kind of bad behavior humans are capable of simply by mindlessly following their beliefs. The film shows a LOT of bad behavior; it's relentlessly grim and violent, but it fails to reveal what triggers said bad behavior, what kind of mindset leads the characters to commit their disastrous actions. It's implied that it might all lie in the upbringing, the circumstances, people believing they are right simply because God will forgive them no matter what. But I wish the film had tried to dig a little deeper below the surface.

It needs to be mentioned that the cast is excellent, though. Each member of the ensemble is given their shining moment: Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, Bill Skarsgård, Harry Melling, Haley Bennett and Eliza Scanlen are all deserving of praise, but it's Tom Holland who delivers the most surprising work of the ensemble. He has been singled out many times in previous reviews for his riveting work, but it really needs to be said that Tom Holland delivers the best performance of his career so far and shows a lot of promise for more serious work outside of the blockbuster fare he has been working with for the past half-decade. Also, really good cinematography and a constantly unsettling, memorable score work in its benefit.

I am confident this would make a wonderful double feature with Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man. In the end, The Devil All the Time gave me the impression that it strived to be the kind of film people mean when they say things like 'they don't do 'em like this anymore. It's a gritty and powerful film that offers enough to make you forgive its weaknesses. While I was lost in the meaningless stream of storytelling during the film's middle section, I found the beginning as well as the climax to be incredibly powerful, filled with important character study moments. It's not perfect, and everyone who hates constant narration will be pretty annoyed by this film. But even though I might still have to let my initial impression sink in for a while, I think I really liked this more than most critics did and will.

2020 Ranked

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