Joe Bro’s review published on Letterboxd:
"You got time for a sinner?"
Ya know...maybe it's time I stop watching depressing ass films when I'm already feeling depressed enough already? But on the other hand...they're just so dang good.
This isn't a perfect film, and I could see it being very divisive as time goes on. It's a shockingly dark, dreary, desperate American / Southern Gothic (capitalization??) folktale that sprawls and encompasses one big, interconnected tragedy. It really feels like if someone took a Coen Brothers film, like O Brother, and turned the nihilism and cynicism up to like 30. Not that that is inherently a bad thing, just want to make it clear so you know what you're getting yourself into.
First off, what an incredible cast and group of performances, Jason Clarke excluded as usual. Tom Holland is incredible, of course, but my favorite performances were Riley Keough and Robert Pattinson. Keough had a few moments where I was so spellbound by the control she had over her entire face and body language in a scene that required her to change it very quickly and constantly, so much so that I actually watched the scene again just to study how much she killed it. The mask she wears slips on and off instantly over and over again all without cutting away, and it feels totally natural. Pattinson is probably my favorite performance of the film, just so perfectly tuned and evil that you can't get enough of it. He's quickly becoming my favorite actor working today, he's just so versatile and deeply talented. This role is no exception.
It's also directed and shot beautifully. The imagery is haunting and the framing is unforgettable. The purposeful parallels in the visual language help the film achieve its goal in feeling interconnected in all aspects of the story, but thematically and linearly. It feels great technically as well, there's one particular interior mounted shot that holds on Holland's face for a solid minute without cutting, allowing him to emote beautifully in a way we haven't really seen from him before. Mounted shots are my favorite already, so that may have been my favorite moment of the film, despite its seemingly insignificant nature.
It's great, but there are a few things that hold it back from being something truly special. The script feels rather surface level, and the majority of the depth that is to be gleaned from the film comes from the actors performances rather than the material with which they are working. That's not necessarily a bad thing for the actors considering they do an incredible job, but the script could have used maybe another pass or two to feel less like it's simply a vehicle to take characters from scene to scene. It's also got a few very minor pacing issues in the first act as it tries to figure out all the different stories it's trying to tell simultaneously, but it definitely gets there in the end. The cast also includes Jason Clarke which is quite literally never a good thing.
In every single frame of this, there is a dark and terrifying underbelly that feels just out of reach. There seems to be no hope in this land, where violence is cyclical without end, religion and faith are used to prey on the poor and meek, men with power will do anything they have to in order to keep it, and there is no empathy, understanding, or sense of community in anything that happens until it is too late. It's a harsh, brutal look at our world that will turn many away and I won't blame them one bit. For me, however, it is very effective in its messaging despite a few bumps along the way, and that's what counts.