Book vs. Screen: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

The Devil All the Time Book vs. Screen Comparison Netflix Adaptation
The Devil All the Time

Title: The Devil All the Time
Author: Donald Ray Pollock
Release Date: July 12, 2011
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fiction, Thriller
Pages: 261
Buy: Indigo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Rating: Borrow It 

Movie: The Devil All the Time
Director: Antonio Campos
Screenwriters: Antonio Campos, Paulo Campos
Stars: Tom Holland, Robert Pattison, Bill Skarsgard
Release Date: September 16, 2020
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Length: 2h 18mins
Rating: R
Watch: Netflix

It’s really hard to put this book into words, so I’ll leave it to one: gritty. 

I won’t say it’s not my typical read, but it is very different from the fiction I’ve been reading lately. Lots of death, sex, blood, sweat, dirt, smoking, and alcohol, which pretty much sums up what you’ll find between its covers.

To be honest, I picked up this book because it was being adapted into a movie. So, with the above in mind, I closed that book wondering how on earth they were going to take that grit and put it on film. Sure, they’ve rated it R, but it certainly cut out a lot of gruesome aspects of this book.

Now, whenever a book is turned into a movie or television show, it is important to view it with a grain of salt. I get it, not everything will make it into the movie. Nevertheless, I think it is supremely important to take the time to understand the point of the novel in order to properly grasp what should be included and what can easily be scrapped. 

Disclaimer: Spoilers

So, without further ado, here is what I thought of the Netflix adaptation of The Devil All the Time: 

The Devil All the Time Movie Posters
The movie is FULL of great lines! I love that they used them in their marketing.

The first thing I want to point out is that this book is very well written and structured. One thing that stood out the most to me while reading was how the author uses parts (e.g. Part 1, Part 2, etc) extensively. While not a bad thing, it helps the reader jump time (a bit, not drastically) and location as the characters spread between Ohio and Virginia. Thankfully, the film does a pretty good job at letting the viewer know time has passed with location and time stamps. However, their sequence of these jumps are not my favourite. The book doesn’t really keep secrets from the reader. There is no build up like you would find in a mystery novel of “oh gosh, is he the killer?” or “Who killed Colonel Mustard in the library?” Instead, we know more than the characters and get the pleasure — or displeasure —  of watching them discover the “devil” in their fellow man or woman or person. And, it really is all the damn time. 

While this is great in a book, I don’t think it translates well in film. They do employ a narrator, which I was not crazy about. That is, until I found out the narrator was the author. I wish I would have known this when I started watching. For whatever reason, as someone who read the novel, this made a huge difference to me. It may not resonate with people who haven’t read the book, but now I feel like I missed out on the joy of having Pollock read his story to me. 

One thing I will give the narrator, it was a great tool in adding that layer of grit. Not once did the narrator school his use of language. It was crude and honest, like the book. Additionally, it doesn’t hurt that he has a great voice. Donny should do more voice work, if he isn’t already. The crime fanatic in me suggests murder mysteries. 

Another important aspect of the story is the level of manipulation, specifically among characters who inadvertently set other misfortunes in motion. Makes sense if we are going to be referencing the devil, especially in the title of the book, right? Yet, I feel like this is one of those things that was undermined due to important basic stories being cut drastically. Again, I know not everything can be included, but good grief, Charlie Brown! 

Let’s get into it:

Willard Russell. The guy gets pretty obsessed with saving his sick wife. So much so that he makes his own church in the woods surrounding his house. After experiencing the horrors of war, Willard, understandably, seems to have lost his faith or prayer. Who can blame the guy? But, in the face of a disheartening prognosis, he prays. Well, and he happens to slaughter a bunch of animals, using their blood and carcasses as offerings. Wowza. And, no, it doesn’t stop there. He kills his landlord, a local lawyer who we get the briefest glimpse of near the beginning of the movie. You know, the part where Willard, Charlotte, and baby Arvin are looking at that old farmhouse that becomes their home. Ya, that part. 

The Devil All The Time (L-R) Bill Skarsgård as Willard Russell, Michael Banks Repeta as Arvin Russell (9 Years Old). Photo Cr. Glen Wilson/Netflix © 2020

So, we don’t get the clear downward spiral Willard goes through leading up to his wife’s death. We have him kill the family dog (not in the book) to pull at our heartstrings, perhaps to make up for this huge part of the book. And, we never meet the lawyer. Why even show him? Ugh. It was fine to leave that out with all the dead animals. Except, unlike the animals, they showed him. I get it, they needed something to show that they were saving money to buy the home, but that whole motivator is completely tangled up with the lawyer. Again, leave out the saving of money and the lawyer. You could have just made us believe they owned the home outright. Or maybe they were leasing? Who cares? The point is that it wasn’t integral to the plot. Though I am sure the guy who played the part of the lawyer would disagree with me. Sorry, buddy. 

Carl and Sandy Henderson. What a dynamic duo, said no one ever. This serial killer couple did not get as much time as I think they should have been given. These two are something else when it comes to their “vacations”. You can easily argue that Carl took advantage of a young and lonely Sandy when he first met her as a waitress, a job she was made to get after her brother (the future Sheriff) convinced her mom she needed to pull her weight and “get out of her shell”. So, what’s missing? 

Carl, in typical serial killer fashion, loves and treasures his pictures. In fact, he only experiences sexual gratification when looking at them. I think this is an important distinction to make seeing as Sandy rarely looks at them (in fact, she has a “tendency” to feel remorse and guilt). Carl keeps them hidden and tries to hide his “attraction” for these images from his wife. Sandy goes along with it, in my opinion, to feel important. Or, to make things more pathetic, feel affection. The woman sells her body to make money (when she isn’t bartending) when she isn’t sleeping with hitchhikers to lure them into being…models. Gah. I know these scenes would have been absolutely gruesome, so I don’t blame the filmmakers for  giving the viewer smaller (though still disturbing) scenes.

The Devil All The Time (L-R) Jason Clarke as Carl Henderson, Riley Keough as Sandy Henderson. Photo Cr. Glen Wilson/Netflix © 2020

The two men in her life, her brother and her husband, both did her dirty. Neither looked out for her. While her brother kept her at arms length so he could focus more on his career, her husband uses her to further his “art”. Sad on both accounts. 

Roy Laferty and Theodore. Another lovely pairing, said no one ever x2. Poor Helen. By not giving more of a backstory to Roy and Theodore, her death looks random. Meanwhile, she is the victim of jealousy. Theodore’s jealousy, that is. The guy can’t stand that Roy has a wife and a baby. It brought their little preaching tour (ya, the one with the spiders) to a standstill. So, what does he do? Taunts Roy, who has been in a damn closet for two weeks, into proving he has been given the power of resurrection (like he claims) on Helen. Well, that went well. 

Manipulation, folks. 

Once she is dead, these two take off. That, at least, was right. What wasn’t said is that they joined a little sideshow. Roy did his spider stunt and Theodore played and sang. Roy had an affair with a woman whose talent was being a bird (don’t ask) and Theodore got it on with a clown (again, don’t ask). That comes to an end because of Theodore again when he tried to pull some crap with a kid (pervert). On the road again, the two are homeless and wandering from place to place. Long story short, Theodore dies and Roy decides to go back to see his daughter, even if it results in his arrest. 

Then he has the misfortune of meeting Carl and Sandy. Boom. Close curtain on Roy. 

What we get — Roy abandoning Theodore and being shot by Carl. One out of two ain’t bad, I guess. 

Standing Ovations:

The Devil All the Time Movie and Book Review

Harry Melling as Roy Laferty. 

Known for his portrayal of Dudley Dursley in the Harry Potter films, Melling definitely leaves the muggle babble behind in his role as Roy Laferty. His performance is by far my favourite out of everyone in this movie. He brought the energy, passion, and zealousness of Roy right off the page and into the film. So much so that his presence on the screen outshines anyone else. That being said, I was doubly disappointed that we didn’t get more of Roy’s story. It means we got less of Melling. What a tragedy. 

The Devil All the Time Movie and Book Review

Robert Pattinson as Preston Teagardin

Preston is nauseating at best. Vile at his worst. He’s just plain gross. Once again, we didn’t get too much of his backstory, but in this case, it was ok. Pattinson is another great example of bringing a character to life. The way he spoke to the way he carried himself – the man oozed vermin. And that’s me being nice. 

For Twihards everywhere, you know that Midnight Sun came bursting out of the Forks, Washington grey skies to bring light to the Twilight Saga once again. Well, don’t you dare come to this movie thinking you will get some more vampy sparkle. Pattinson executes another great portrayal of a character who came and went (thankfully) quick, but who left an important mark. After all, it’s because of Preston that Arvin heads back to Ohio (where it all began) and right into the path of Carl and Sandy. 

Top 3 Scenes:

 Gold: When Arvin has just beat up the three boys who were tormenting Lenora, he goes back to his car. While sitting in the driver’s seat, he begins to wipe the blood off his hands. When this happens, there is a cut to his father doing the exact same thing after beating up the men who insulted his mother. A moment, the narrator tells us, “Arvin would often think back on this day as the best one he ever spent with his father.” Things seem to come full circle. What a strong scene. 

Silver: About halfway through the movie we can see a moment with Carl, Sandy, and a hitchhiker named Gary. I am sure you know exactly what happened. However, before the inevitable takes place, Sandy is lying on her back looking up to the sky and says, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? All them trees just going up, up, up. That’s a good picture.”

Later, as her brother lays dying, we get a shot of the same view. That’s poetry, my friends. 

Bronze: Besides the fact that Tom Holland acted the crap out of that yawn, I liked this ending better than the book. I liked that the movie, or narrator, finally brings good and evil (white and black), to a very grey conclusion.

Final Verdict:

If there is one thing the movie succeeds at it is the juxtaposition of good and evil. More specifically, the desire for goodness being fermented in a stew of bad intentions. Every aspect of the story is steeped in dirt and grime, yet, God and the power of prayer is brought up constantly. It’s a rollercoaster, that’s for sure. 

It goes without saying, read the book. The movie is good and worth watching, but it lacks this layer (*reference Shrek and onions here*) of motivation, drive, and belief that could only be conveyed with backstory. This web of characters, while closely linked in some way, come across one another by the choices they’ve made. Choices that happen beyond what you see on the screen. 

Definitely watch it. I would love to know what you think, especially if you haven’t read the book!


4 thoughts on “Book vs. Screen: The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s