Netflix's The Devil All the Time, out this week, was supposed to be the ensemble film of the year. Spider-Man du jour Tom Holland takes a dramatic turn as the central character Alvin, while Bill Skarsgård, Riley Keough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Haley Bennett, Eliza Scanlen, and Mia Wasikowska also appear in this dark and disturbing adaptation of author Donald Ray Pollock's postwar Gothic of the same name.
I wish I could tell you more about their performances, but by the end of the film, the only thing I could think about was Robert Pattinson.
It's admittedly baffling that the former Harry Potter and Twilight star somewhere along the line morphed into one of the greatest living actors, but it's even more baffling still that he keeps somehow getting cast in secondary roles where he then effortlessly snatches the movie away from the sorry souls who'd signed up thinking they were going to get to be the "leads." How has no one learned better yet? You don't want to be in a movie with this guy; he's only going to steal the show.
The Devil All the Time is only the latest example. In it, Pattinson plays a small town West Virginian preacher, Reverend Preston Teagardin, who doesn't show up until 55 minutes into the film's 138-minute runtime (Pattinson picked out the role personally). While this is a movie populated by serial killers, delusional preachers, corrupt cops, thugs, and henchmen, Pattinson still makes the most chilling first impression of all when he dips two fingers into the juices of Alvin's grandmother's welcome offering of chicken livers and licks them clean. Reverend Teagardin later takes interest in Alvin's adopted teenage sister Lenora (Scanlen), and, when the inevitable consequences result, he delivers a sermon that includes a drawn-out howl of "deeee-LUUUU-sions" that made me jump in my seat. (Pattinson, a Brit, loves accent work, and really invests in his nasally southern drawl, which he reportedly kept a secret until his first day of shooting). Later, when Reverend Teagardin's fortunes reverse and he has to grovel for his life before Alvin, Pattinson's embodiment of pathetic desperation makes the scene one of my favorites of the year. His final appearance in the movie is around the 102nd minute mark, still leaving nearly 40 minutes of the film to unspool after he's left.
Pattinson's pedophile preacher in some ways most closely resembles his French dauphin, Louis, in the 2019 Shakespeare adaptation The King, although not because there are any overt similarities between the characters. (For all the variance between Pattinson's films, the majority of his better roles still tend to be mysterious and threatening characters, a typecasting he's not quite managed to shake from his vampire days — though it's also part of what makes his upcoming turn as Batman exciting, too). As with his character in Devil, Pattinson's dauphin is intended as a minor role in the script, which is otherwise supposed to belong to Timothée Chalamet, who nevertheless can't brood his way to besting his co-star. Of course, it's not really a competition, but there is a reason why it was Pattinson's devastating line delivery that everyone ultimately obsessed over. As he told The New York Times when asked what possibly could have informed his bonkers performance, Pattinson said: "I want[ed] to play a princess, too."
Part of why Pattinson's performances in The Devil All the Time and The King rise above his hapless costars' is because it seems as if he frequently operates on a totally different page than the rest of the cast and crew. In the moody and atmospheric The Lighthouse, where he plays more of a true co-lead, for example, Pattinson claimed that he "didn't really think it was a horror film, because I thought it was so funny." Some believed he was trolling with his over-the-top French accent in The King. Mashable's Angie Han, in sharing her pan of The Devil All the Time, suggested that Pattinson was actually doing a sort of meta-performance with his campy, whining reverend, claiming he was the only one on set who seemed to recognize how comedic the movie actually was. Though I felt more generously toward The Devil All the Time than she did, I'm convinced by her argument; Pattinson stands out because his performances are often cleverer than the movies he's in. When that's the case, his more earnest costars don't stand a chance.
But Pattinson doesn't just shine in mediocre movies. Take 2017's The Lost City of Z, a glittering treasure of a film, in which Pattinson is again the accidental crown jewel despite playing the mere aide-de-camp to the film's explorer, Percy Fawcett, who is played by Charlie Hunnam. It's not even that Hunnam is shabby in the lead role; he isn't at all. Pattinson just "quietly underplays his role from start to finish" while "[serving] the story, making it seem more real and alive, and providing a dose of authentic humanity in the process," The A.V. Club wrote for its "Watch This" column earlier this month. In 2016, Pattinson also had a "small but deceptively important role" in Childhood of a Leader, where despite his few scenes, he leaves an unforgettable and haunting mark. Sometimes, it seems, Pattinson is just that good.
All this is to say, if you are ever offered a role in a movie alongside Pattinson, run. I don't care how much money you're offered, or if you're literally playing Didi and he's been cast as Godot. No role is too small for Pattinson to not steal the entire movie away from everyone else who's in it — lucky for those of us watching from the safety of our couch.