Sunday, 22 November 2020

Movie Review: The Devil All The Time (2020)

A sprawling multi-generation epic, The Devil All The Time is an intersecting drama engrossed in themes of faith, moral corruption, crime and revenge.

While serving in the Pacific during World War Two, Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård) has a harrowing encounter with a dying Marine. After the war Willard returns home to the rural West Virginia - Ohio border region and marries Charlotte (Haley Bennett). They have a son Arvin and Willard turns to religion to help combat his war-induced demons. His mother Emma (Kristin Griffith) had wanted him to marry Helen (Mia Wasikowska), who instead weds travelling fake healer Roy (Harry Melling) and they have a daughter Lenora.

Tragedies disrupt Arvin and Lenora's young lives and by 1957 they have both moved in with Emma to be raised as step-siblings. In 1965 Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) is suffering high school bullying due to her devout nature, while Arvin (Tom Holland) tries to protect her. Ahead of them are challenging encounters with sleazy Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson), murderous couple Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) Henderson, and Sandy's brother, corrupt sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan).

An adaptation of the 2011 novel by Donald Ray Pollock (who contributes the narration) and co-produced by Jake Gyllenhaal, The Devil All The Time settles down for a captivating 138 minutes of fluid character-driven storytelling. Breathing deeply from the rustic milieu of small backwater communities where religious fervour obscures reason with startling outcomes, director and co-writer Antonio Campos conjures up overlapping arcs spanning 20 years in the lives of memorable people.

Evil intentions skulking within religious verbiage and outlaw acts stemming from good intentions are the combustible fuel mix. From the moment he stumbles upon a badly wounded soldier nailed to a battlefield cross, Willard then his son Arvin confront a succession of moral dilemmas where the wrong action may be the right thing to do. In a time and place with limited other resources, faith is the most readily available route promising some version of salvation, but here malevolence awaits, charlatans lurking to exploit the vulnerable.

With about 10 influential characters and numerous events to cover, Campos maintains a superb level of intensity by deploying brisk pacing, spikes of gore and a dash of cogent flashbacks to reveal fate's invisible hand at work. From an early 1945 scene at a diner where both Carl and Willard meet their future brides all the way to the final showdown in the shadow of a once-standing cross echoing back to the war, The Devil All The Time carries the sly winks of the past, present and future huddled together. 

The ensemble cast members share the screen time with laudable efficiency, exploiting their moments to maximum effect and quickly establishing inherent conflicts. Harry Melling is suitably unhinged as Roy, his spider jar trick a highlight only until he surpasses his own derangement. Robert Pattinson as a predator disguised as the new preacher in town emits a stench powerful enough to waft right off the screen, while Bill Skarsgård and Tom Holland convince as successive generations of the same conflicted man.

The Devil All The Time is also everywhere and in everyone, some souls succumbing, others resisting by perilously outflanking evil.



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