3.5 out of 5
I wish they had stated at the start that the narration was by the author of the original book, Donald Ray Pollock. I think it would have given additional meaning to it. As it was, I spent a portion of the film wondering who the narrator was.
The story starts in 1957 with Donald Ray Pollock narrating how people from West Virginia and Ohio somehow end up being connected each other due to ‘dumb luck’ and by ‘god’s grace’. All revolves around the life-happenings of three essential characters – Arvin Russell (Tom Holland), Carl Henderson (Jason Clarke) and Reverend Preston Teagardin (Robert Pattinson). Along the way there is a good supporting cast including Sebastien Stan, Rieley Keough and Bill Skarsgard.
What starts with Arvin’s father making him learn the retaliation law of ‘an eye for an eye’, becomes a theme of righteousness and damnation. While every character is shown they’re really close to the god, they actually are closer to the devil and hence the title. Now, I don’t want to give away anything about the story, Simply watch it without knowing what it’s about, and it’ll leave a better impact.
Director Antonio Campos brings in a lot of depth to the script of the film along with Paulo Campos. The script plays around the basic idea of its characters finding a thin line between ‘faith and folly’, and most of them choose to be fooled. The death/hour count is too high for the film, even though all of them are smartly connected. Every death happens due to something unintentional done by some other character before it. All of this sticks with you for much longer after the end-credits roll and I'm reminded of how I felt after watching ‘No Country for Old Men’.
Lol Crawley’s camerawork is exquisite. He optimally uses the country set up to an excellent extent resulting in solid production value for the film. The idea of ‘you are not your parents’ is explored in a very haunting way. Sofía Subercaseaux’s editing works as the slow poison, it’ll suck you gradually in the start, but once you’re in, you’ll come out with a lot to think about.
The three central characters of the film Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson and Bill Skarsgård aren’t Americans, but it’s commendable how well do they fit in this entire US country setup. Tom impresses with his debut scene in which he’s doing nothing but sitting on a table cutting his birthday cake. But the way he maintains his body language hints at how amazing he’s going to be ahead in the film. Pattinson, we know can deliver and I refer you to his recent outing in The Lighthouse. He makes you loathe him for the man he is but also impresses you with his skills as a flawless actor. His character is smartly described as the one who “could never win a fistfight, but he’d read the book of revelation in his sleep.”
Bill Skarsgård as Willard rises above any type-casting to nail the role. He gives you the horrific vibes, though without makeup this time around. Jason Clarke does what he’s best at, f*ck around the script like a boss. He’s best at what he’s given to do. I felt Sebastian Stan and Harry Melling deserved better.
My only major complaint from the film will be its weak female characters. They all are just a small part in this demonic world created by the men around them. Apart from Riley Keough’s Sandy, none of the other female characters affects the story in a significant way. Haley Bennett and Eliza Scanlen portray their part with utmost honesty, but that’s not enough to disguise their frail character sketching.
MUSIC! I read a few reviews before penning mine and am immensely disappointed about why many haven’t talked much about the vintage songs in the film? From The Roberta Martin Singers’ Old Ship Of Zion to Jimmy Rodgers’ Honeycomb and Sonny James’ Young Love, director Antonio Campos has masterfully tackled anarchism with the use of these classics. Danny Bensi & Saunder Jurriaans’ score also blends in well with the theme and never interrupts the proceedings.
All said and done, this Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson film is like ‘watching’ a book. The narration mixed with the tone, direction and sudden smartly-infused twists makes this an intriguing watch to the end.