Devil All the Time, The

Rating:

HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT

Main Cast: Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson

Director: Antonio Campos

I ordered Tom, my chauffeur to head off to see if we could find another homeless encampment in need of my largesse when my cell phone rang. It was my old, old friend Vera Charles asking me if I had heard the news. Apparently, some sort of deranged person in a fancy car had attacked a photo shoot for the new Gucci men’s collection. They were doing a socially distanced outdoor catwalk practice sometime earlier this morning when the models were ruthlessly attacked. Whomever this person was had lobbed bags of garbage and bottles of toxic waste at the high paid high fashion young men in the latest designer couture, all while shrieking in some unintelligible language. Obviously, the mental health system has failed some poor creature. Vera was very worried about my being downtown with a dangerous maniac on the loose and begged me to return to the safety of the West Side, or at least to the other side of Fairfax. After a brief consultation with Tom, I decided not to go in further pursuit of homeless in need of a makeover. The risks were just too great.

I did think it would be a good idea for me to check up on the poor traumatized models so I called the local Gucci boutique on Rodeo Drive to find out where the campaign might be shooting this afternoon and was told that they were on the Santa Monica pier so I told Tom to head back towards the beach so that I could offer them some succor in their hour of need. I know how delicate their fey little temperaments can be. We pulled into the parking lot and I daintily exited my new Prius limousine and stepped lightly in my aquamarine Jimmy Choo’s down the walk and past some boarded up arcades to where the shoot was happening, easy to locate due to a presence of several dozen Klieg lights and racks of clothing.

This poor dear fled the scene in his undershirt.

As I demurely stepped forward into the light, the young men started to shriek and scattered in all directions. I have course whirled around to see what was behind me that could have scared them so but all I could see was a flock of seagulls, flapping and squawking in a rather odd symmetry with the male models. I decided that the young men were obviously slightly overwhelmed by the sudden appearance of a star of my magnitude in their midst and I tapped one of them on the shoulder as he flitted past to say a few words of encouragement and to keep him from crashing through the safety railing into Santa Monica Bay. He muttered something unintelligible and doubled back towards the Ferris Wheel. I decided perhaps it just wasn’t the right time for light conversation.

I headed back to the limousine, took a look at some of the sad rags on the clothes racks that had obviously been shipped out by mistake and was struck with a brilliant idea. Tom and I rolled a rack or two back to the limousine and I tossed the disastrous collection of torn garments from them into a convenient dumpster and replaced them with what was left in the back of the limousine of my charitable donations which were in much better condition and, if taken back to Gucci, might actually be saleable to a public anxious for fine fashion and luxurious materials after so many months of quarantine. The Gucci people didn’t notice. They were busy trying to talk a particularly nervous model who had climbed halfway up the Ferris Wheel back down before someone could be hurt.

I had booked a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel for the week so as to be out of the way of the movers so I had Tom carry Eve up to the second bedroom and put her to bed while I ordered some room service and decided on my entertainment for the evening. Netflix was advertising a new film, The Devil All The Time, which had opened in a few select theaters last month and then released for streaming due to the general shut down of cinematic exhibition due to the coronavirus which has been playing such havoc with all our lives. I like to be caught up on the latest trends in film, so I decided to settle in for a watch together with my boeuf bourguignonne and several bottles of an enchanting Merlot that the kitchen had sent up. I knew little about the film other than it was set in Appalachia after the second world war and was based on a novel of which I had never heard. The cast looked interesting with several familiar names so up went my feet (free of Jimmy Choo) and I settled in for a few hours of escapism.

The Devil All the Time is a multi-generational saga of social, personal, and religious dysfunction in the backwoods of Appalachia in the decades immediately following World War II. We start with Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgard) serving in the military in the Pacific Theater during World War II. While on patrol, he runs across a horrific Japanese war crime perpetrated against a fellow soldier and the emotional fallout from what happens follows him back home to the USA. After his discharge, while taking the bus home to West Virginia, he stops to eat in a diner in rural Ohio and his eye falls on the waitress Charlotte (Haley Bennett) and it’s love at first sight. First though, he has to return home where he informs his mother Emma (Kristin Griffith) that he is not going to marry the girl Helen (Mia Wasikowska) that momma has picked out for him. Instead, he returns to Ohio and his waitress and Helen marries the charismatic and mentally ill preacher Brother Roy (Harry Melling). Fast forward a few years: Willard and Charlotte in Ohio have a son, Arvin, and Helen and Roy have a daughter Lenora. First tragedy befalls Helen forcing the aging Emma to take in Lenora as ward, Helen being an orphan and all. A few years later, after bad luck and religious mania in Ohio, Arvin also finds himself without parents and returns to his grandmother. Arvin and Lenora continue to grow up together as step siblings turning into Tom Holland and Eliza Scanlen. Lenora is shy and devoted to her deceased mother until the new Reverend (Robert Pattinson) takes over the local church and casts his eye her way. Arvin is suspicious but tragedy strikes again. Throw in a corrupt Ohio sheriff (Sebastian Stan), his wanton sister (Riley Keough), and her serial killer husband (Jason Clarke) and you’ve got various lives all careening towards a finale out of Quentin Tarantino.

The Devil All the Time ends up being less than the sum of its parts. The adaption of Donald Ray Pollock’s novel (screenplay by brothers Antonio and Paulo Campos with direction by Antonio Campos) is solid, taking a long, complex story that wanders across decades, generations and locales and collapsing it into a two and a quarter hour saga that never becomes confusing even when we skip backwards and forwards in time. Pollock himself serves as a never seen narrator reading what are, I presume, passages from the book to help tie events and themes together. His prose is clear, and the story is interesting enough to make me look for the book the next time I flit through a Barnes and Noble.

It’s also clear that there’s a basic understanding by these three creators of the type of people that inhabit the hollers of hard scrabble Appalachia and how they relate to each other, their religion, and their senses of honor and duty and how that passes through generations. In many ways, The Devil All the Time reminds me of Robert Schenkkan’s play The Kentucky Cycle from the early 1990s which mined the same sort of people and ethos for a retelling of some of the Greek myths, especially the fates of the members of the House of Atreus such as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. This piece wants to reach those mythopoetic heights, but it wallows a bit too much in gratuitous cruelty so we’re too busy at times saying ‘Eww’ to see beyond the surface to the deeper themes. There are also a few draggy moments and a few sequences could have been trimmed for pace.

The cast, mainly playing against type, are very good, even though the Brits aren’t completely solid on their Appalachian dialect. The hill people of Southeastern West Virginia have a particular sound which isn’t easy to learn and capture but, if you’ve spent any time in the region, you know it when you hear it and you know it when it’s not quite right. The standout of the ensemble is Sebastian Stan as the corrupt Sheriff. We understand both the jovial façade that gets the votes and the darkness by which he operates out of the public eye. Bill Skarsgard, as the overly pious and very damaged Willard goes a bit over the top at times. Robert Pattinson seems to revel at playing a slime ball rather than a hero and his preternatural good looks are very effective in helping us hate him. Tom Holland, as the protagonist for most of the second half of The Devil All the Time, is the antithesis of his superhero persona as the conflicted Arvin. He’s perfectly adequate but seems a little uncomfortable with the darkness of the role. Another favorite of mine was Harry Melling as the flamboyant preacher; he’s come a long ways since playing the overweight lump Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films.

For the most part, the visual look of The Devil All the Time with its run-down homes and its dying small towns is spot on. It was filmed in Alabama rather than West Virginia, which makes the landscape not quite right. The lush deciduous forests are correct but the landscape in general feels too flat for the steep mountainsides and hollers that its supposed to be depicting. So much of the character of the people of that part of Appalachia derives from the unique geography of the area where places three miles apart may require a sixty-mile journey that it feels like a bit of a cheat.

The Devil All the Time ends up being a film that’s going to stay with me. It’s imperfect but the good outweighs the bad by a significant amount. It’s not for everyone with its rather graphic depictions of cruelty of various stripes and the religious subtext may be off putting to some as well. As it’s streaming on Netflix, it’s easy to find and there are far worse ways you could spend a couple of hours.

Multiple crucifixions. Spiders on Face. Wheelchair guitar playing. Inappropriate use of screwdriver. Gratuitous face in mud. Naughty photographs. Bloody genitalia. Symbolic Luger pistol. Symbolic dead animal head. Symbolic hippy in VW microbus.

To learn more about Mrs. Norman Maine, see our Movie Rewind introduction, visit her entire back catalog and follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/missvickilester

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