We have all been through a hell of a year people. 2020 has been an absolute dumpster fire for most of the planet and the film industry is no exception. Productions shut down, release dates moved back and worldwide theatrical releases have been shoved onto the closest available streaming platform in an attempt to recoup immeasurable losses. While movies directed at children have flourished with this new model (I guess when you have to spend months on end in the house with your kids, paying 30$ to stream Trolls: World Tour seems like a steal) movies made for an older audience have struggled.
Enter Netflix and their attempt to dominate the 2020 film buzz with The Devil All the Time. Sporting a massive cast filled with A-List actors, some of whom are playing characters way out of type, and a subject matter that can only be described as "mature". When Netflix sees an opportunity they pounce and with a severe lack in new films being released and especially ones of quality, seems like the perfect time to release a mediocre film to widespread acclaim.
For starters I have not red the source material before watching the movie. For that matter I had never even heard of the book or red anything by the author Donald Ray Pollock. I discovered that the movie was based on a novel when about 10 minutes in I decided I had to find out why this movie had such a stupid title. To be fair it does make sense in the context of the movie but perfectly encapsulates the level of subtlety in the movie of which to say there is none.
Probably the most frustrating part of this movie is the completely unnecessary and intrusive level of voice over. This crap is strewn all through this movie and what's worse is that it takes the form of an unknown narrator. This tells me that either...
A.) someone involved with the production believed that there is just no way that us imbecilic viewers would be able to understand what is going on in this movie at all unless we hear someone from outside the movie tell us what is going on. Or.......
B.) The filmmaker is some combination of too untalented or too lazy or both to take the ideas being told by the voice over and find a way to visually or emotionally deliver that information to the audience.
Neither option is good and more often than not both are true. C'mon Antonio Campos, this is day one Scorsese stuff. It's a visual medium, why not use the visual part?
The second most frustrating thing about the movie is the length. Some of you may know I have a standing rule that no movie ever needs to be more than 2 hours long. If it was good enough for Hot Fuzz it is good enough for your movie too. Some filmmakers earn the right to indulge sometimes, but they usually make it a habit and it can really end up taking a good amount of the enjoyment out of what could otherwise be great movies.
While The Devil All the Time only comes in about 19 minutes over the 2 hour mark, it ends up feeling so much longer because of the poor pacing and scattered nature of the "plot". There are no less than 3 extended flashbacks and 3 jumps forward in time. By my quick estimation there are over 15 characters that we are supposed to get to know and our top billed star, Tom Holland, does not appear until over 45 minutes into the movie.
All of this causes the movies to never really get going. There are multiple "plotlines" but they are for the most part separated throughout the movie which makes it feel even slower and more disjointed. To me this is a clearly an attempt to adapt as much of the book to screen as possible. There needed to be some hard edits and revisions to the original story to more properly shift the narrative to one that will work better in movie form. Instead it feels more like someone dropped a massive folder onto the desk in my brain and then they said "you figure it out"
Now believe it or not there are things about The Devil All the Time that I did like, chiefly among them being the acting. The first thing I noticed when watching a trailer of the movie was the sheer amount of star power brought to the table. There is a strong mix of well established stars, rising names and even just some familiar faces. It's not every day that you get to watch a movie that has a Batman, a Spider-Man, The Winter Soldier, Pennywise, Ted Kennedy, Jayne Eyre and Dudley Dursley in it, the problem is that they are almost never in the movie at the same time.
I have my problems with the characters, but that is more from not getting enough time with them to develop a relationship and feelings about them, not because of poor acting. No one is trying to win Best Actor or Actress but across the board the performances are solid. Save a few strange choices here or there I really enjoyed watching them.
I also want to commend the setting and the time period. A good amount of this movie revolves around small rural middle American towns and this movie could very easily have made a caricature of them. Characters could have had some generic hick sounding southern American type accent but they all seemed to have a similar drawl. This very much helped to set this story in our world instead of what most movies end up doing which ends up feeling like a slightly alternate universe. This can no doubt be attributed to the author being a native of the the northern Ohio area and taking great pains to make sure it was given the proper treatment.
As previously mentioned the time period displayed in The Devil All the Time is also one of it's more commendable assets. Everything from the cars to the buildings reeks of post-war America and really makes a good amount of the other faults the movie has soften. It an be very a very difficult and expensive process to make sure that a time period like this one is fully appreciated and The Devil All the Time does this not only well but with confidence.
Even with all of my issues with it, The Devil All the Time ranks as one of Netflix's better feature length movie outings. This does not say as much about the quality of the movie and more about the overall quality of Netflix's original programming but never the less it is worth a subscriber's time to check out if they are interested. The subject matter may not be the most wholesome 2020 content but if anything it should serve to distract viewers from the current state of the world and give them a chance to feel better that they are not one of the poor characters of this movie.