If ever there were a modern story that touched on the beautiful losers vibe of William Faulkner in the post WWII era…
Director Antonio Campos
Screenplay Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos based on the book by Donald Ray Pollock
Starring Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, Mia Wasikowska, Robert Pattinson, Harry Melling, Eliza Scanlen
If ever there were a modern story that touched on the beautiful losers vibe of William Faulkner in the post WWII era, it could be Pollock’s The Devil All The Time. The story is one of continual loss for good, if unrefined people, in the dawning of the baby boomer era. It is a circle of woe that extends from Coal River, West Virginia to Meade Ohio and points between.
The story starts with U.S. Marine Willard Russell (Skarsgård), who is on his way home after V-J Day. We see a flashback of one of his most brutal experiences. It makes us wonder if we might see remnants of this in the future. Don’t worry, it’s coming. In the words of Unforgiven‘s Will Munny, everyone’s got it coming.
There are concentric circles of characters in the story. Willard meets Charlotte (Bennett), then goes back home, where his mother hopes he will marry Helen (Wasikowska). He goes back to Charlotte, and Helen ends up with a charismatic preacher Roy Laferty (Melling). Both of these marriages bear children, but neither of them last long.
The children, Arvin Russell (Holland) and Lenora Laferty (Scanlen). Theirs is a loving kinship, and Arvin looks out for his little sister. Unfortunately he can’t see her in her weakest moments. She is compromised by the new, handsome preacher (Pattinson) and it costs her dearly.
There is another couple, Carl and Sandy Henderson (Clarke and Keough) who wander the countryside, picking up men and killing them while taking their pictures in the midst of their terror. Sandy is the brother of local crooked Sheriff Bodecker (Stan). These connections affect the story, of course.
Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters is in full effect, here. It feels like it’s melded with touches of Faulkner and even Thomas Hardy. No good person goes without a punishing existence, and even the bad folks have a long, drawn out existence of pain. Every circle between the towns cross, often in the worst way.
The performances are strong throughout. Holland has never been better as a man who is caught in the hands of fate, but never stops fighting. Pollock’s earnest narration is incredibly effective in exerting the pathos of events, tied to each character. This is not a perfect film, but it is a very good one.
(**** out of *****)