I can say without doubt or hesitation that The Devil All The Time is the ‘feel bad’ movie of the year, and I mean that in a good way. This isn’t a film that seeks to find the silver lining, heart of gold of light at the end of the tunnel as far as atrocious human behaviour, sickening acts of violence and degradation and overall depravity go, this is a film that displays such things without much in the way of message, theme, agenda or apology. It’s just a film about terrible people doing terrible things, plain as pasta. If you can reconcile that early on in and stomach your way through the rest, there’s a whole lot to appreciate here, namely a spectacularly star studded cast all giving superb work in a gorgeously produced piece of Southern Gothic, nihilistic, psychosexual, blood spattered, sleazed up, unpretentious hayseed pulp fiction that has no patience for the squeamish, the self righteous or those who just tuned in to see Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson and won’t know what hit them. The film is a sprawling backwater canvas that spans decades and sees a whole host of unsavoury denizens interweave devilish deeds, violent acts, religious mania and murder most foul, or in this film’s case, most celebratory. Holland is terrific as Arvin, a tough kid with a nasty past who was taught early on in life by his extremely troubled father (Bill Skarsgard, haunting) about what kind of evil is out there. He’s forced to reckon with quite a few gnarly characters including a married couple serial killer duo (Jason Clarke and Riley Keogh), the county’s most corrupt lawman (Sebastian Stan), a belligerent small town mobster (Douglas Hodge) and a piece of work preacher (Pattinson playing gleefully against type) with a penchant for sexual abuse of underage girls and not a remorseful bone in his body about such acts. Arvin anchors the whole sordid tapestry together but is by no means a hero, and as much as the violence he inflicts is justified when you consider the people he’s up against, he is still a very harsh and cruel force, made so by Skarsgard’s passing of the torch as a young boy. The narrative doesn’t always seem to flow naturally, there’s a few jerks on the pacing chain that I noticed but the film is so beautifully made in terms of production design and performance it just sweeps you up anyway. It’s based on a novel by a fellow called Donald Ray Pollock, and judging by the wistful narration provided here he approves of what the filmmakers have wrought with his work, but I also see on google that he grew up in the actual county this is set in, and god help him if any of this stuff happened in his life because I wouldn’t wish these events on anyone. This is a pessimistic film that doesn’t pretend to be some holy treatise on pain and suffering whereby showing awful things happen we attain some kind of catharsis, by distance, perspective or irony. No, this film just presents to us the absolute shittiest human behaviour it can think of, and let’s us sit with it as we will. Many will abhor it, I appreciated it for what it was, for the craftsmanship, acting, artistry and scriptwriting on display and I suppose if there’s one thing it had to say that I absorbed, it’s that violence begets violence, generationally speaking in this case, and sometimes that’s not such a terrible thing when put to good use. A tough pearl of wisdom, but then again this is the toughest sort of film to be moved by.
After a sort of slow opening act, Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky becomes a sweet, funny, raucous, touching and unexpected film, the most enjoyable thing he’s made after a series of dead serious dramas. Kind of like Ocean’s Eleven for the Monster Truck crowd, this is popcorn fare with brains, but it’s not afraid to get loopy and mess around in the sandbox either in terms of comedy and characterization, especially that of Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang, the world’s most aloof safecracker. Joe’s help is needed when brothers Jimmy (Channing Tatum) and Clyde (Adam Driver) Logan take it upon themselves to stage a heist during NASCAR mania when times of financial woe befall them. Jimmy is laid back and affable, Clyde is old school idiosyncratic to the point of hysterics and their dynamic is something hilarious. Throw in Joe with a Bang and the thing takes off, once the gears of the plot start grinding, mind you. Like I said, the opening dilly dallys a tad. Despite being a screwball comedy of sorts, this never goes too far off the rails into, say, Cannonball Run territory and never feels *too* light or inconsequential. Soderbergh is an alchemist in complete control of every element and this thing unfolds deliberately, intricately and always playfully. Surrounding them is a delightfully eclectic supporting cast including Seth McFarlane, Riley Keogh, Katie Holmes, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterson, Macon Blair, Sebastian Stan and Dwight Yoakam as a breezy Prison Warden. The heist is a blast, full of screw ups, diversions and delirious suspense as these ill prepared, lovably hapless goofs try to do right by their families and each other. Craig must be broken out of jail where he’s “in-car-cer-ated” for the duration of the job and then stealthily returned once the mission is accomplished, and Jimmy has to be done with it all in time for a beauty pageant that his daughter (Farrah Mackenzie, wonderful) is appearing in. It’s fairly random but it just somehow works, from left field character choices to specifically nutty set pieces to third act twists that come out of nowhere. Just when you think you can relax, a federal agent (Hilary Swank in full shark mode) shows up to stir the pot again. The film ends on a narrative cliffhanger and with perhaps one of the best and most enticing zoom-out shots I’ve ever seen that had me both wishing for a sequel and wanting the magic to remain bottled just there at that perfect penultimate moment. Great film.
It’s easy to see why audiences are having sort of an icy reaction to Jeremy Saulnier’s Hold The Dark, an oblique, austere Alaska set thriller with esoteric undertones. On a platform as diverse yet decidedly commercial as Netflix, it will take some time for the riskier, more artistic and less accessible projects to gain traction, and for the casual viewers to warm up to varied aesthetics that they often lazily dismiss in a lump sum as ‘weird.’ They’ll come around. For us who are tuned in, however, we can appreciate that these risks are being taken and that money is being spent on challenging, anti Hollywood stuff. Although not as tightly wound or succinct as Saulnier’s first two efforts (Blue Ruin and Green Room), Hold The Dark is definitely my favourite as I have an affinity for snowy settings and dark, ambiguous mysteries. Jeffrey Wright is great here as as an outdoorsman and wolf expert hired by the mother (Riley Keogh) of a child supposedly snatched by wolves to find the beasts and kill them. I won’t say much more except that things are so far from what they seem at first that you’ll truly have no inkling of where the plot is going to take you next, which is a sign of great, inspired scriptwriting. There’s an eerie edge to the whole thing, but the film’s secrets aren’t divulged willingly or at all half the time. Alexander Skarsgard is implosive and lupine himself as the boy’s haunted father, on his own freaky quest for a goal shrouded in enigma like fog swells throughout the Alaskan mountains, actually Alberta here. James Badge Dale is great as the intense local sheriff, Julian Black Antelope is a standout talent as a shady local villager involved in the central mystery, and the cast includes fine work from Savonna Spracklin, Peter McRobbie, Macon Blair, Jonathan Whitesell and Tantoo Cardinal. Playing around with genre and tone, Saulnier and cinematographer Magnus Nordendorf Jønck deserve huge props for staging a fucking volcanic firefight scene that has to be up there with the best shootout scenes of all time, it goes on for something like ten minutes, more bullets are fired than in a Rambo movie and there’s some gnarly violence. There are some spooky, intangible ideas at play here and almost none of it is made obvious.. it may leave some in WTF mode, but clearly a stylistic language is being spoken here, with some deep, disturbing things to say about nature, humanity and the dark symbiosis held over them, particularly in lonely, desolate places such as this. This won’t be everyone’s thing, but it’s stayed with me all day since I saw it last night, I’m on board with it.