None of the characters feel real, necessarily, but they’re all immensely watchable in their own right. You have the farcically grotesque villains, such as Preston (Robert Pattinson), the town’s teen idol of a preacher, and Carl (Jason Clarke), a man who puts the psycho in psychopath. Pattinson plays Preston with this high-pitched, broken twang that’s more goofy than menacing, but it sure is fun. Without saying much, Clarke manages to inhabit every corner of Carl’s spider-infested basement of a soul, particularly when he and his accomplice act out a little charade before getting down to business. A scene where he picks up a hitchhiker about to fly out to Vietnam is one of the movie’s best sequences.
Even though the characters are forced to share the attention, there are ways to maximize the time we spend with them. Campos doesn’t quite use his time right, but there are some expressive character moments squeezed into the already compressed story. You see these occasions in Carl’s girlfriend, Sandy (Riley Keough), as she struggles with her role in Carl’s favorite outdoor activity. There’s also a brief moment at a funeral where Arvin shoots a look at his uncle that’s worth a thousand pages of dialogue.
“None of the characters feel real, necessarily, but they’re all immensely watchable…”
At many points, The Devil All the Time takes on an old-fashioned cadence, and not the good kind. It starts feeling a little emotionally exaggerated and too finely arranged, but then something startling will happen that breaks the spell, suddenly making the movie exciting again. This excitement isn’t because of action or violence, per se, but because the story is suddenly free from its own conventions. Soon after, it will fall back into its old ways, then buck them again, and so on and so on.
As is often done to maintain the unique voice of a book, the movie uses a narrator. And what better narrator to maintain the book’s voice than the man who wrote it, Donald Ray Pollock. Why is this not done more often? How cool would it have been if Hemingway had narrated the For Whom the Bell Tolls with Gary Cooper? It doesn’t make The Devil All the Time better than it is, but it shows its head was in the right place.
"…a little emotionally exaggerated and too finely arranged, but then something startling..."