Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland Can't Save Netflix's Grim 'The Devil All the Time'
Monotonous malaise in Appalachian Ohio.
What if you took a few beloved actors and put them in the most dour, depressing project you could find? Well, then you'd have The Devil All the Time, the new Netflix movie from director Antonio Campos. The film stars Robert Pattinson and Tom Holland, among others, and is probably best described as two hours and 18 minutes of misery. Every bad thing that can happen to these characters in Appalachian Ohio does happen. The sheer amount of misfortune would almost seem like parody if the movie didn't take itself so incredibly seriously.
The decades-spanning plot is adapted from the novel of the same title by Donald Ray Pollock, who also serves as the largely unnecessary narrator. In the screenplay, which was written by Campos and his brother Paulo, Pollock's voiceover describes every plot point, sometimes even before it is going to play out on screen. The saga of the residents of Knockemstiff and the surrounding area unfolds as if Love Actually were about post-WWII tragedy: Everyone is connected by some sort of horrific event.
The endless sorrow starts with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), a WWII vet who witnesses the brutal crucifixion of one of his fellow soldiers in the Pacific. He returns home and marries a sweet waitress named Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and they have a child, Arvin. Arvin will eventually be portrayed by Tom Holland, but not until Charlotte is diagnosed with cancer and Willard, in an effort to save her, shoots his young son's dog as a sacrifice to God. If his mother had her druthers, Willard would have ended up with Helen (Mia Wasikowska), who instead weds a crazed preacher Roy (Harry Melling). Their child, Lenora, is abandoned when Roy stabs Helen in the neck, thinking he can resurrect her to prove the Lord's power.
By the time the plot reaches teenage Arvin and Lenora, now played by Little Women's Eliza Scanlen, 45 minutes have passed and Campos has already made it abundantly clear that he's serving up messages about folks who put too much faith in hucksters peddling warped interpretations of the Lord's will. So by the time Robert Pattinson strides in as the new local preacher, wearing a ruffled shirt and weaving yarns about chicken livers, it's clear he's bad news. And indeed it's not before long that he's preying on the pious Lenora.
At this point, I haven't even mentioned Riley Keough and Jason Clarke as a couple of serial killers who stage elaborate pornographic photoshoots with their victims, or Sebastian Stan as a corrupt sheriff, but you probably know nothing good will come to or from them either. The malaise just becomes monotonous.
Almost all of the actors have adopted Campos' general aura of malaise, affecting the regional accent with grim determination. As was the case in his other torpid Netflix production, The King, Pattinson is the only one who really sinks his teeth into the material. He contorts his voice into a high-pitched sneer making a meal out of words like "delusions." Holland is ostensibly the lead of the piece, but is mostly relegated to the sidelines. Arvin is never really given much of a personality, so Holland is left to scowl grimly as he plots his revenge against those who have wronged his loved ones.
Sure, The Devil All the Time sort of answers the question: What if Spider-Man went head to head with Batman and the Winter Soldier in depressed mid-century America, but the result is far more maudlin than that would imply.
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