The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★★½

Donald Ray Pollock's extraordinary novel is a difficult one to adapt. First of all, the grizzly content—unless dampened—would necessitate an NC-17 rating and alienate most audiences, even those with a predilection for bleak and violent films. But also, the unconventional vignette-y approach Pollock utilizes in exploring the horrifying world he creates doesn't lend itself to the typical three-act structure we've grown accustomed to. Considering those major challenges, Campos does a fantastic job, altering very little of the story itself and remaining faithful to the novel. The disturbing content of the novel remains mostly intact, though not depicted in explicit detail, and the structure is largely untouched, though some audiences will find it difficult to stay engaged as it shifts between characters, refusing to establish an easy through line to follow.

The Devil All the Time's strengths lie largely within the source material, though, and it's disappointing how Campos's fingerprints feel faint, if present at all. Over the years his talent has been slowly transitioned more toward directing actors, which is definitely one of his strong suits—Hall's remarkable performance in Christine stands amongst the best of its decade—but his earlier work was far more dynamic and unique in its presentation. The Devil All the Time benefits from his talent with actors, because the ensemble cast is excellent—Pattinson is the obvious standout, but Bennett makes great use of her brief screen time—but it's weighted by the borderline anonymous stylistic approach, most notably the flat cinematography and melodramatic score.

Overall, it's a good adaptation of a great book, but lacks a flavor of its own. Pollock and Campos are a perfect pairing, and it's disappointing that one ingredient is almost entirely missing.

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