The Devil All the Time (2020) Review

With a promising ensemble cast that includes Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Jason Clarke and Riley Keough as well as a potentially engaging story based on Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 acclaimed novel The Devil All the Time, it looks as if Netflix has a winner here.

A slow-burning crime drama with a sprawling narrative about faith, resentment and violence, The Devil All the Time takes place around the rural towns of Knockemstiff (yes, it does exist), Ohio and Coal Creek, West Virginia circa the 1950s and 60s. Narrated by the author himself, the movie begins with a World War II vet Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) returning home, where he meets and falls in love with a waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett). They subsequently got married and has a little son named Arvin (Michael Banks Repeta).

At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Willard isn’t much of a religious person until circumstances happen. Let’s just say things do not end up well — a result that scarred Arvin till the day he grows up as an adult (now played by Tom Holland). He lives with his grandmother (Kristin Griffith) and has a stepsister named Lenora (Eliza Scanlen), whose parents Helen (Mia Wasikowska) and Roy (Harry Melling) went missing from the day they left their baby girl in her care.

Robert Pattinson in Netflix's "The Devil All the Time".

The movie also introduced a serial-killer couple Carl (Jason Clarke) and his wife Sandy (Riley Keough), who picked up random victims looking for a ride. Then, there are the side stories involved a shady sheriff named Lee Boedecker (Sebastian Stan) and a newly-in-town preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) — both of which Arvin ended up crossing paths with them in separate occasions.

The Devil All the Time clocks at 138-minute long and that is understandable, given the interconnecting narrative that involved lots of characters. The cast is generally fine, with Bill Skarsgård making the most of his screentime in an engaging performance as Willard Russell.

Tom Holland and Sebastian Stan are equally captivating in their respective roles while Jason Clarke pulls off a creepy portrayal of a psychopathic serial killer Carl. He pairs well with Riley Keough, who is no stranger to playing dark and seductive roles. Robert Pattinson, in the meantime, gets all perfectly sleazy as a young preacher in a showy supporting turn that’s hard to ignore.

Jason Clarke and Riley Keough in Netflix's "The Devil All the Time".

Unfortunately, co-writer and director Antonio Campos falls terribly short in the storytelling department. It does open promisingly during the long stretch that involves Willard Russell’s ill-fated journey. But as the movie moves on and jumps from one narrative to another, it grows increasingly tedious. All to the point that it becomes difficult to care about the characters here. 

The erratic pace doesn’t help either, as evidently seen during the last third act that makes me wonder how long do I have to endure sitting through this bloated slog of a movie.

Whereas the story fails to live up to its expectation, Campos knows how to put together some of the shockingly violent moments without being gratuitous. He also manages to capture the time and place of the 1950s and 60s backwoods towns of Ohio and West Virginia with the help of Lol Crawley’s atmospheric cinematography. Kudos also go to the impressive choices of a country-tinged soundtrack throughout the movie.

Overall, it’s a shame that despite fine performances, The Devil All the Time remains a missed opportunity. Given the cast and its source material, it certainly deserves a better screen treatment than what we are getting here instead.

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