'The Devil All the Time' Review: Slow Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland-starrer saved only by powerful performances
The actors deliver a scintillating performance in a film that has a solid concept, but just scratches the surface
Over the years, Robert Pattinson has managed to portray characters that the audience still remembers him by and associates him with, rather than actually 'know' him as Robert Pattinson. And these roles were embraced with a drive and intention to wholly bring those characters to life. In this savage, country psychological thriller that serves as a grim tale of sin and salvation, Pattinson is a sleazy, lust-filled, obnoxious, gluttonous, scoundrel of a padre. He is a classic hypocrite who loves them flashy cars, a mop of hair that when combed makes him look like a Broadway star, and a pale, broody face that serves as a facade of him moping around calling himself God's messenger.
'The Devil All the Time' is set in rural Ohio and brings with it characters just as troublesome as Pattinson. The Netflix Christian-themed noir is heavy on bloodshed, crime, and adultery. The third factor is something that's splashed quite generously. To better explain this, we'll have to go back to Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson) who uses God's name and seduces Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) on a rainy evening in his car, and then outrightly accuses her of lying after realizing she's pregnant.
Based on Donald Ray Pollack's novel of the same name, the film with a runtime of well over 120 minutes is slow-paced and takes its time. Each character has their identity fleshed out. They come with rich tragic backgrounds that have shaped them into what they are. Some tend to end as lusty lost souls while a few battle their demons and find it hard to live life normally. If Pattinson's Teagardin is one of them, then there's Tom Holland as Arvin Russell who has quite the past himself.
Russell has a troubled childhood. His father, Willard, (Bill Skarsgård) is a Marine. He falls in love with a waitress who serves him coffee and doughnuts after his tour home following a bloody war. The torrid memories of the war are entrenched in Willard and he turns to the almighty to help him get through every tribulation in life. It's admirable that these characters cling to the Lord, but end up more like psychopaths after their blind faith turns them into monsters.
Without spoiling much, what we can tell you is Holland's Russell is someone who takes his dad's advice very seriously. His tragic childhood means he's cold and violent when it comes to making baddies pay for their crimes. Quite simply, it's Peter Parker with a dark side to him. Transversing his storyline is that of Lenora's psychotic father, Roy (Harry Melling) whose blind faith in the Lord leads him to believe he can do things that mortals can't. He marries Helem (Mia Wasikowska) and Lenora ends up with an equally tragic childhood.
Don't ask us why. The storyline is hard to swallow. To fill up the rest of the cast, there's Jason Clarke as Carl and Riley Keough plays Sandy, Carl's partner-in-crime. While their relationship is pretty much all business, their actual line of work is all about picking strangers, forcing them to have sex with Sandy while Carl films them, and then the "victim" is killed. So this is a quintessential baddie-filled roster in one film that does get a little burdensome by the halfway point.
Things go full-tilt south for Russell when these freaks of nature converge around him threatening him and his family. In the end, it's all about salvation actually. It's that wishful thinking of trying to get away from the hell these characters live in. Russell is a good teen and in him is the actual protagonist as he shows sinners the actual difference between right and wrong. If the movie is anything, it could best be described as a complex sermon about washing off the darkness in a person.
It is a pity that a story with strong characters just scratches the surface. Director Antonio Campos has paid complete attention to detail, not a strand's out of place, but the film lacks that killer blow despite the promising outset. The cast performances are the sole reason this film deserves a watch. Pattinson may have thrilled the world as the latest man to don the Batman suit, but his portrayal of an absurd, ghoulish reverend will be remembered for a long time.
Holland puts his heart and soul in the character and cements his case as someone who can pull off darker roles effortlessly. The rest of the cast including Clarke, Melling, and Skarsgård play their limited roles to perfection and that adds to the relatively small list of reasons to watch the thriller. We'd give this one a couple of stars on five.
'The Devil All The Time' releases September 16, 2020, on Netflix.