Too much misery and too much dirt for 2020

THE DEVIL All The Time is adapted from a 2011 best seller which Netflix bought last year for distribution. It has released it for streaming but apparently has a big campaign ready to go when awards season kicks off.

The story follows the Russell family, spanning decades, and is essentially about intergenerational trauma, the sins of the father passed on to the son. It opens in Japan during World War II where Willard Russell finds a fellow US marine crucified by the Japanese, but still alive. He mercy kills him. This sets the tone for the rest of the film. He returns home and finds a woman to marry and starts his life, but what he saw and did in the war haunts, not only him, but his family.

The Devil All The Time has an absolutely cracking cast - Tom Holland, Robert Pattinson, Sebastian Stan, and Riley Keogh, directed by exciting young director Antonio Campos. Unfortunately I did not love this film like I thought I was going to.

It reminded me of the current Netflix show Ozark. If you are a fan of that, this might fill a void while waiting for the fourth season, otherwise, give this one a pass. The problem is that The Devil All The Time wants to be a Coen brothers movie when it should be a True Detective style mini-series. It is two and half hours but it still feels like they left a lot of meat on the bone.

Despite the stacked cast, the performances are mostly only OK with the exception of Robert Pattinson. His character comes into the movie in the second half and does jolt the film to life. His bizarre take on the sleazy preacher with a strange accent is, for sure, the best part of the movie. Pattinson reportedly refused a dialect coach and I don't know if his accent is accurate to Appalachia where the movie is set (apparently, it is not ) but it does make for a memorable character.

The film is properly filthy. Everyone is a mess and look like they smell inside and out, even the leading men’s teeth are rotten and brown. A film this bleak was always going to be a tough sell, especially in the middle of the year we are all having. I wanted to like it but I couldn’t get there.

Two weeks in a row now Netflix have released depressing films. Last week's I’m Thinking Of Ending Things absolutely destroyed me (and even more on a second watch ) and I loved it. It was a beautiful and haunting meditation on loneliness and regret. It was packed with nuance and interesting questions. It shows you can make depressing movies work. This film though was just too much - too much violence, too much misery, and too much dirt for 2020. Read the room Netflix. We could use a laugh.

Rocks - a realistic look at adolescence and poverty

Rocks is the name of the lead character - a confident young girl in London who lives in a council flat with her mum and little brother. She is not really interested in school, aside from the social side of things where she has a great core group of supportive friends. One day she comes home to find a note from her mum saying she has gone to 'clear her head' and asks Rocks look after her brother. Rocks knows if she tells anyone they have been abandoned, the state will separate them and she is determined not to let that happen.

Rocks is a modern version of the Ken Loach classic, Cathy Come Home and is a realistic examination at what poverty looks like in 2020. I know it sounds miserable but please believe me when I say it is not.

The difference here to a film by Ken Loach film, one of my favourite directors, is the fun the characters are having, and it should go without saying working class households and schools are no different to anywhere else, they are full of laughter and happiness. I laughed watching Rocks more than I did most big studio comedies released this year.

Rocks has a lot to say about class and about education but it is mostly about friendship and adolescence. I do not think I have ever seen teenage friendships as realistically portrayed as I did here. The script was written along with the cast through workshops and this is why it feels so natural. The director (Sarah Gavron ) also splices in scenes shot with iPhones with snap chat filters and it all flows well - you feel like you are seeing the world through the eyes of the girls.

This is an amazing film centred around a horrible situation, a girl abandoned by her mum, but it is such an enjoyable watch. It works because it is empathetic, not at all patronising, and wonderfully optimistic.

We are not getting the usual Hollywood output this year due to Covid, and if you do not always get to see low budget indie movies, now is a good time to check one out. I cannot imagine anyone not getting a lot out of this film. I would be very surprised if it didn’t make my Top 10 at the end of the year.


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