Directed by: Antonio Campas
Premise: Adapted from the novel by Donald Ray Pollock. Set in the post-war era, the lives of several families converge over matters of crime, violence, and faith. A young man (Tom Holland) tries to do right but he is consistently drawn to violent confrontations.
What Works: The Devil All the Time is an ambitious story with several intersecting plotlines and themes that concern violence and righteousness. The movie takes place over a decade and a half, concerning the sins of multiple generations. The action centers around Arvin, played by Tom Holland, a young man whose life keeps intersecting with bad people. At a young age, Arvin learns to use violence to deal with bullies and predators and his life is an escalating series of conflicts with increasingly sordid people. Holland is quite good in the role. Arvin has been hardened by all the evil he’s encountered but Arvin maintains a moral integrity that is evident throughout Holland’s performance. The Devil All the Time is impressively structured and edited. The story unfolds across a long period of time and it involves a lot of different characters. The filmmakers cut between the subplots and pace the action quite well; there is a lot of story to get through but they also slow down at the right moments, allowing the story the space to grow tension and explore the lives of these characters. The picture occasionally skips back and forth on the timeline and it weaves the history of these characters and their families together credibly. The picture also has a vivid tone and sense of place. The Devil All the Time is set in rural Ohio and West Virginia in the 1950s and 60s and it often feels authentically of its time and place. The settings and costumes have a worn, lived in look and the characters match their surroundings.
What Doesn’t: The Devil All the Time is adapted from the novel by Donald Ray Pollock. The film includes narration which Pollock provides. While the voiceover is well written and elegantly delivered, it adds very little to the movie. The narration frequently just spells out what we’re seeing on screen. The film would have been stronger if the images spoke for themselves. The Devil All the Time is an aggressively bleak film. The harshness of the movie is not a fault in itself but The Devil All the Time does come across cynical due to its simplicity. The movie is full of people who do terrible things to each other but with the exception of Tom Holland’s character few of these people possess any complexity. Most of the villains that Holland’s character encounters are exactly who they appear to be and nothing else. The lack of interest in these characters flattens the picture’s interest in its moral and spiritual themes.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: The Devil All the Time is a good picture poised to be great if not for a few critical missteps. The movie falls short of its ambitions but The Devil All the Time is a well-crafted picture with an impressive story structure and several good performances.
Episode: #818 (September 20, 2020)