The Devil All the Time (2020) Review

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The Devil All the Time

Time: 138 Minutes
Cast:
Tom Holland as Arvin Eugene Russell
Bill Skarsgård as Willard Russell
Robert Pattinson as Reverend Preston Teagardin
Riley Keough as Sandy Henderson
Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson
Sebastian Stan as Sheriff Lee Bodecker
Eliza Scanlen as Lenora Laferty
Haley Bennett as Charlotte Russell
Mia Wasikowska as Helen Hatton Laferty
Harry Melling as Roy Laferty
Director: Antonio Campos

A young man (Tom Holland) is devoted to protecting his loved ones in a town full of corruption and sinister characters.

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The Devil All the Time was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020. First of all it has one of the biggest casts of the year, with it including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke, and Riley Keough, so naturally that had my curiosity. On top of that though, the prospect of a psychological thriller with a large group of characters sounded quite appealing and very much my kind of film. Having seen it, I can see why some people are mixed on it, it’s not for everyone, but I’m glad to say that I really liked the movie and it really worked for me.

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You could describe The Devil All the Time as like The Place Beyond the Pines as written by Cormac McCarthy or The Coen Brothers. It spans a number of decades and generations, and features a large number of characters with intertwining storylines. It can feel like it’s not driving towards something for most of the movie, it’s very much a character driven story. For me though it works, I found the story and characters compelling, and I was invested with what was happening. As mentioned earlier it is not for everyone. It is a very grim and bleak movie, a lot of graphic, violent and gruesome acts happen, there are some pretty dark themes and subject matter touched on throughout, and almost all of the main characters are pretty far from what you’d call ‘a good person’ to say the least. So it’s likely to turn a lot of people off. The movie is also just under 2 hours and 20 minutes long, it does feel quite long and it is slowly paced for sure. You could make the argument that some parts could’ve been trimmed. At the same time there are some plotlines that could’ve done with some fleshing out, particularly those of Jason Clarke, Riley Keough and Sebastian Stan. Maybe a mini series might’ve been able to flesh out all the aspects of the story while not feeling too drawn out, but I’m fine with how it is as a movie. One point of contention will be with the narration by Donald Ray Pollock, the author of the book the movie was based on. It will work for some, and others will hate it, I have very mixed feelings on it. It really did add something to the tone of the movie, making it feel like a gothic folk tale, and it also added some context to the characters and the story that it sometimes needed. So I wouldn’t say that it should’ve been completely removed or anything. However, it really needed to be cut back a ton. There’s many moments that would’ve been more effective if they didn’t have narration, it just explains way too much, including what some characters are doing and why they are doing it, and it just takes me out of the movie. This may be a nitpick but there are a few characters who are around from the 40s through to the 60s, and don’t look like they aged a day, and it can be a bit distracting.

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The cast are of course the standouts from the movie, and everyone is great on their part. Riley Keough and Jason Clarke play a serial killer couple, Sebastian Stan plays a corrupt sheriff, and Harry Melling plays a fanatical preacher, the later of whom was one of the biggest surprises of the movie, delivering a truly memorable performance. Although their characters aren’t given much to do, Eliza Scanlen, Haley Bennett, Mia Wasikowska do well on their parts, and Scanlen particularly gave an effective performance. Even amongst an ensemble of great performances, there were three actors that stood out. First of all is Tom Holland, as the main character of the story (despite appearing for the first time like 40 minutes into the movie) Arvin Russell. This was quite a different role for him, a much darker and emotional role for him, and he was actually great on his part. While I like him in the movies I’ve seen of his, I’d say that this is so far the best performance of his career thus far. I hope Holland branches out to more indie movies like this, because he’s definitely got a lot of range. Bill Skarsgard is also great as Arvin’s father, he really leaves a strong impression despite being in the movie for only like 30 minutes. He gives an intense and emotional performance, and possibly the best work I’ve seen from him thus far. Robert Pattinson is also a scene stealer as a sleezy, deranged and sinister reverend. He’s not even in the movie a ton but he makes the most of his screentime. His performance could’ve so easily failed, it is definitely over the top. However it actually really works, and he really did well at portraying the most hateable character in the film, and considering the lineup of characters in this story that is saying a lot. A particular scene between him and Holland is one of the best scenes of the year.

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This is the first movie I watched from Antonio Campos, and from this I can tell that he’s a great director, and I do want to watch his other movies. It’s very well put together. The cinematography is great and really sells the environment and time period effectively. The 35mm and the grain really also really fit the movie and tone. You really get the gothic rural feeling throughout. The use of music was pretty great, both the song choices and the score, and really worked particularly well in some certain scenes. The violence and brutality is really effective and impactful, it feels very realistic, and there are some moments and particularly some imagery that really stick with you.

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The Devil All the Time has some issues with some of the executions of its ideas and with its writing, but on the whole I think it’s great. I was invested throughout, it’s very well directed, and it features some fantastic acting, particularly from Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard and Robert Pattinson. It’s not for everyone, the aimless story might drag for some, and the grim tone might turn some people off. With that said I think that it might be worth watching for the ensemble of great performances alone.

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