The Devil All the Time succeeds most of the time

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Glen Wilson | Netflix

Alec Friedman

Adapted from a 2011 novel of the same name by Donald Ray Pollock, it sees sinister characters converge around a young man named Arvin Eugene Russell, played by Holland, who is devoted to protecting those he loves in a postwar backwoods town teeming with corruption and brutality over the course of different eras from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Premiering during a time of lasting shutdowns and quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the film was released in select theaters on Sept. 11 and then made available for streaming on Netflix on Sept. 16.

The film contains three storylines: Arvin as a young boy, Arvin at 18 years old and then The Hendersons, played by Jason Clarke and Kough. The Devil All the Time is a smart film with good performances and manages to be a good watch despite its flaws.

In the first storyline, Arvin’s traumatic childhood is explored. When the film moves to its main storyline of 18-year-old Arvin, it focuses on displaying how Arvin has been influenced by his childhood and his father, played by Skarsgård.

The performances are very strong throughout. Pattinson and Harry Melling’s roles as Reverend Preston Teagardin and Roy Laferty, respectively, are small but eccentric and enjoyable. Director Campos calls Pattinson “a mad genius who can do anything” in an interview with Directors UK. Melling’s performance and character is very similar to Paul Dano’s Eli Sunday in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood. The standout performer, however, is the film’s main focus Holland, who steps out from the Marvel shadow and gives a career best performance. Holland gives a much more serious, melancholy performance than his normal charming outing as Peter Parker.

The strongest quality of this film is the subtlety in its narrative and how characters are drawn in relation to one another. The film does a fantastic job characterizing Arvin in relation to his early childhood and his father. The parallels drawn between Arvin and his sister along with Deputy Bodecker and Sandy Henderson, played by Stan and Kough respectively, are thoughtful as well.

The film also manages to weave in interesting religious themes throughout it’s storyline. Aptly titled, for the very religious Christian characters in the film, it does seem that the devil is present all the time as the film and its characters are often drowned in darkness and gloom. The religious aspects certainly feel a bit overstuffed at times, but they do tie together nicely with the narratives of prayer and faith that the devil constantly affects in each of the characters connecting storylines.

The cinematography is understated, but there are some interesting visual moments capable because of the choice to film on 35mm film, which gives it a retro vibe that fits in well with the time periods. This touch is nice but it’s curious that this film was shot in 2.39:1 aspect ratio, so the film failed to fully utilize and capture the full potential of the wide screen. The film also features narration from Pollock, the writer of the novel the film is based on. The narration felt very tacked on and often only served to recap ideas and concepts that the film had already managed to articulate. The majority of this film is marked by its juxtaposing storylines, one of which was more interesting than the others and made for an uneven watch at times. However, the collage of storylines came together in an exciting way for the finale of the film.

With really excellent performances, a very thoughtful narrative and sometimes striking old-fashioned imagery, The Devil All the Time manages to overcome some of its shortcomings as Campos delivers what is certainly one of the better and more interesting films of 2020.