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Weekend Watch: The Devil All The Time

Imagine you’re reading all of this in a thick southern American accent. I really do have a thing for accents – I tend to pick ‘em up quite easily in fact (not so much the vocab though). Hell, I’d even go through the pain of learnin’ multiple accents, if I got paid for it obviously. Also, disclaimer! Do not – I repeat – do not go hitch-hiking! More often than not, it doesn’t end well – in American cinema at least. But then again, India is so over-populated that it will be a tougher job for one to not find public transport here. So, hitch-hiking isn’t really an option.

The Devil All The Time is one helluva dark and gritty story – a story of men caught between two wars – the Second World War and the Vietnam War. But the story has little to do with the war on the battlefield and has more to do with the war within. This is the story of how men are made – forged and chiselled by the merciless world around them. They don’t make men like that anymore though. The world out there is no cakewalk, it’s brutal and unforgiving. If this story set in the America of the 50s and the 60s is anything to go by, one doesn’t have to wade into the woods to draw peril to one’s life. There are predators lurking around in broad daylight, camouflaged in plain sight as fellow members of the civil society we live in. The story might date back multiple decades, but one does wonder if the world around us and the society that we live in and so trust – has it really changed much? Would it be just as safe if we just let down our guard for a bit? How far detached are we from our animalistic impulses and our tribal nature? Having a strong belief in the rather flimsy social construct of morality can be quite testing. Often times, one might be compelled to get one’s hands dirty in some of that immoral filth just to restore some semblance of balance to this chaotic world.

You remember the old wild western movies? This movie is somewhat like that – just a little more contemporary. Much like them western movies, the bottom-line is – kill or be killed – hunt or be hunted. This movie can be a quite uncomfortable to watch though, for reasons I can’t tell you ‘cause that would be a spoiler and then you’d bicker (kidding). But it does go to really dark places. It’s not your usual Netflix movie – honestly, it doesn’t even feel or look like one – at least to me it didn’t. Filmmaker Antonio Campos has smeared his name and style all over this movie – so much so that it doesn’t feel like a Netflix original at all – he makes it his own completely and so very distinguishable from textbook Netflix stuff. Let me segue for a moment here, to talk about Netflix’s visual style. Is it just me or do a lot of Netflix movies actually look pretty similar in terms of visual texture and style? Have you noticed how similar the colours are for the movies that Netflix India makes? If this doesn’t strike a chord with you, try observing the colours in Indian Netflix originals when you watch them next – it’ll either be warm yellow with decently punchy blacks or cold blue with some contrast. I honestly wonder if Netflix India does this on purpose to have some kind of its own signature visual look. Or is it just too petty of a miser to not invest in a proper colour-grading person? It’s like Netflix India has only two LUTs and it’ll stick either, anywhere and everywhere.

Coming back to the movie, there’s not a whole lot to complain about it. I mean, some might complain about the pace, but I personally thought it was perfect. It’s somewhat long for an American movie for sure – bordering two and a half hours – but it doesn’t drag. I feel certain stories and plots need that time to be well-cooked – True Detective Season 1 can be a good example for that. You get to see characters unpack their baggage – and evolve at a pace that seems more real – in comparison to being hit right in the face with abrupt character shifts. The director takes his time to let his characters evolve as the tension builds and the moral conflicts grow deeper. The treachery and deceit unfold naturally in their own time – nothing feels hurried – and this in turn makes for immersive story-telling.

Now, we gotta talk about the actors though – especially because of the reputation they carry (or carried). Tom Holland plays the lead in this movie. He character is called Arvin – and Arvin has to learn to survive the hard way. Life hasn’t been easy on him and he’s grown to be wiser and smarter beyond his years. You wouldn’t visualize Tom in such a role. Our perception of him is that of the clumsy teenage superhero he plays as Marvel’s Spiderman. At the same time, you also have Robert Pattinson who plays Reverend Preston Teagardin. Now, I need not speak at length about how he has come a long way from being the butt of all jokes for his teen-vampire-drama – the Twilight saga to proving his mettle as an actor of great calibre and versatility – having done some exceptional work with the Safdie Brothers in Good Time and Robert Egger in The Lighthouse. And boy, does he pull off that southern accent from Tennessee! Just goes to show how great as actors they are and how easily they can shed the stereotypes or the image that has been cast on them. Oh, by the way, has Robert recovered from the virus? I haven’t been keeping up.

The Devil All The Time is a story of faith, crime, violence, perversion and survival – all baked into one. Ain’t nobody holy here, except for grandma, uncle Earskell, Helen and Charlotte maybe. Faith – as in religion – plays a central theme in this story. Almost every character has his or her own tryst with faith in some way or the other. Some exploit this faith while some others end up being exploited by it. Some manage to draw strength and meaning from it while some others just don’t, even when they try so hard. Irrespective of everything else, their paths converge because of this very faith eventually. You see, the world was a very different place back in the 50s and the 60s. People weren’t as cynical back then as they are today. Religion had an easier time deluding people back then. Interestingly, the world that Campos sets up is truly a small place. All characters in this story have their lives interwoven even though they might live miles apart. This here is a generational story from one war to another – and the lesson to be learnt is that a world at war isn’t too different from a world without it – all that matters is how good of a fighter you are and how long you manage to evade death.

So, why should you watch this movie? Well, watch it for the acting firstly. If you want to see your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman and the cute, glowing teen vampire play complex characters with such ace, then this movie is definitely worth your time. Second, if you haven’t watched a crime thriller in a while that explores the ugly side of society with such unfiltered honesty and realism, then this movie definitely makes the cut. Apart from that, this is a story of retribution – of moral men going down the immoral path just to survive – while the custodians of morality act no different than the predators that lurk amongst us. If you’re having a dull Sunday evening and you’re looking for something intense that keeps you on the edge all throughout – watch The Devil All The Time – now streaming on Netflix.

(You can follow the columnist on Instagram @digvijay_g)

About: If you’re looking for a review, this isn’t it. I do not believe in the entire act of reviewing cinema – I mean, is that even possible? Cinema can be analysed or even critiqued but not rated on a numerical scale. I mean, how do you quantify a feeling? Look, there’s two types of cinema – one where a shit-ton of effort is visibly put into audio-visual story-telling – and the other that’s just outright lazy. Now, I have no interest in watching or even talking about cinema that’s made with a petty retailer mind-set that blatantly disrespects the audience’s intellectual capabilities. But even beyond that, cinema that’s actually good can leave audiences divided. What might bore one to death could actually have profound meaning for another. Cinema is subjective, and many a times, can cater to niche factions within the larger audience. So, how do you tell which one suits your taste? Well, this is where this weekly column of mine comes in. My role here is basically to tell you what exactly is fit for watching for the week – especially on streaming and what to expect from it. Oh, by the way, the movies or shows won’t necessarily be recent.