The Devil All the Time

The Devil All the Time ★★

Netflix brings us star-studded misery porn in the form of The Devil All the Time, a heavy-handed drama filled with enough murder, suicide, sexual abuse and terminal illness for several soap operas. The cast is stacked with actors who are capable of greatness, but this adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock's novel (the author also narrates the film) is sluggish, humorless and ultimately nothing you haven't seen before.

Subplots in Antonio Campos's film are interwoven like a Southern Gothic Crash, gluing characters from tiny towns in West Virginia and Ohio together as though via divine providence. The story is indeed steeped in pious fervor, used as an excuse for all manner of heinous misdeeds, but to what end? Organized religion can be toxic: wow, what a concept. Some storylines, like whatever was going on with corrupt sheriff Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan), must have been cut down so significantly from Pollock's original writing that I couldn't care much for what little I saw. Meanwhile, speaking as someone who was converted to the church of Robert Pattinson after his revelatory appearances in The Rover and Good Time, I am disheartened to disclose that his performance as Devil's Reverend Preston Teagardin didn't live up to the massive hype. Yes, he's a scene-stealer, but this is the newest Pattinson role I've seen since last year's trio of High Life, The Lighthouse and The King, films which set the RPattz bar impossibly high. Short of intergalactic gardening, mermaid sex nightmares and French-inflected giggling, Pattinson's debauched crusader just can't measure up.

To my surprise, I was most impressed by Tom Holland as antihero Arvin Russell, a rebel with numerous tragic causes; also noteworthy is Harry Melling - formerly best known for portraying Harry Potter's cousin, Dudley Dursley - who has a showy supporting role as another zealous preacher, Roy Laferty. Regrettably, I don't have anything of value to remark about the performances by Eliza Scanlen, Riley Keough, Mia Wasikowska and Haley Bennett since the female characters are treated so horrendously that I don't understand why these accomplished actresses signed onto the project.

And speaking of... well, speaking: I don't typically mind whether non-American performers play American characters in films, but it sticks out when a cast has eight principal actors disguising English, Australian or Swedish accents. I found myself longing for the authentically bourbon-toned voices of Billy Bob Thornton, Holly Hunter, Walton Goggins, Ray McKinnon - hell, even Eric Roberts. It would be hypocritical of me, however, if I neglected to point out that one of my favorite cinematic portraits of the South from the past few years, Jeff Nichols' Loving (2016), stars the Australian and Irish performers Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga, so I don't know what to say except that Edgerton and Negga were perfectly matched in those roles.

I'll just be glad if The Devil All the Time hasn't permanently sullied my love for one of my favorite songs of the 60s, Jackie DeShannon's "Needles and Pins." Fingers crossed.

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