‘It’s hard to live a good life. It seems like the Devil don’t ever let up…’
Sometimes, something doesn’t quite click. All the ingredients are there, but the cake just isn’t satisfying. The Devil All the Time has a bunch of characters that could have walked straight out of a Tom Waits song, a starry cast and religious iconography by the bucket load – something that is normally right up my street what with me being a good Catholic boy and all that. And yet…
The Devil All the Time is the unfortunate tale of one Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), a boy whose short life is marred with mishap and tragedy. His story converges with that of Carl and Sandy Henderson (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) – a married couple who get a kick out of murdering hitchhikers and taking photographs with their corpses, as well the promiscuous Reverend Teagarden (Robert Pattinson) and the ambitious Sheriff Bodecker (Sebastian Stan).
Writer/director Antonio Campos has created a world of almost otherworldly characters and the eclectic cast dives in with relish with Pattinson and Holland particularly impressive. This is also a very literary film, there are shades of both Stephen King and Cormac McCarthy here, indeed, the screenplay was adapted from Donald Ray Pollock’s novel (the author also provides this film’s narration). Mostly though, The Devil All the Time recalls Steinbeck’s East of Eden and that novels ability to create an entire world in one Californian valley. And so it is here, with Coal Creek, West Virginia and Meade, Ohio standing in for the Salinas Valley of East of Eden. All this should make The Devil All the Time a winner, and yet I never really connected to any of the characters. I had nobody to root for. And it was too goddamn long, something I have long lamented of cinema generally.
For all its sophisticated pretensions and cinematic scope, Antonia Campos’ film still feels like a bit of a Coen Brothers knock off. This is very much a movie that is never quite as good as the sum of its parts.