For the last few years, Netflix have been quietly coming up the ranks with some of the original films they’ve produced. Their latest release, The Devil All The Time, is a sprawling drama with Southern gothic vibes, a rip-roaring ensemble cast and a bark that slightly over-promises on its bite.
Arvin Russell (Tom Holland) is a young man with a pure cause in his heart. He lives to protect the ones he loves. However, in the postwar town where he’s spent much of his life, corruption and brutality make this nigh on impossible, especially as the dark forces at work threaten to draw him in as well.
There was plenty of material in The Devil All The Time’s marketing arsenal for them to go on the offensive when it came to plugging the film. That ensemble cast was impossible to ignore when the first posters were released. Pair this with the trailers and it became clear that these names were being put to fine use.
Not to pick any favourites, but…
Tom Holland is definitely a stand-out. It was great to see what he could do away from Spider-Man for a change. I’ll admit I was sceptical about what Holland would bring to the table; this seemed to be a world away from anything I had seen him in before. However, he nailed it. It was never a question of whether he had the talent – it’s been clear he’s had that in buckets since we saw him in 2012’s The Impossible – rather the fact that I didn’t have him down as that kind of actor. However, I kept an open mind and gratefully received the wonderful turn he put in.
Alongside the great performances put in by just about everyone in the film (yes, Robert Pattinson and Harry Melling may have been a distraction at times but for the most part were forgivable), a number of locations and the beautiful cinematography that captured it really tied up the visual elements of The Devil All The Time very nicely. The aesthetics – think of a more modern There Will Be Blood look – gave a sense of the everyday hardships that all of these characters faced, and let on very quickly that no one was coming out the other side of this story without a few scrapes to show for it.
It could have been punchier
As far as the story itself is concerned, it’s far from poorly written. However, definitely didn’t have the impact it could have had. I liked that it explored the idea that you can’t outrun what’s coming; that everybody pays their dues eventually, but that was all it did. It danced around and flirted with this theme, but didn’t do anything that specifically drove it home. Had it have had a stronger focus on this particular aspect, I think The Devil All The Time would have landed much better. Instead, it headed in a very general direction without accurately pin-pointing a destination it hoped to reach.
As for the criticism that the film is too bleak that so many people have had? It is as dark as something dealing with the themes at hand here should be. The past catches up to us all – there is no rosy way of putting that.
As well as being slightly lacking in direction, the film did seem to be a tad over-long. I think the prologue portion of the story could’ve been trimmed down somewhat. The link between it and everything else wasn’t especially clear. This may have further muddied the waters surrounding what the film was really trying to say. The time jumps also didn’t help as it was very easy to forget that set periods of time had passed, and as a result lose where you were at in the story.
The bottom line?
Whilst there are lots of things that do the film a great many favours, The Devil All The Time sadly falls down because it doesn’t know how to reach its goal. It’s a shame because it looks gorgeous, and showcases a number of actors at their absolute best. The problem is it requires a little bit too much attention for too much time. However, that’s not to say you should give it a miss. This is a solid film, don’t be under any impression that it is not. It has its faults, but The Devil All The Time is certainly more than watchable because it’s strengths counteracts them. If anything, it just needed tightening up a bit, which is a sin it’s not alone in committing.