After a short break, Billy Bob Thornton returns to the screen Devil’s Peak, another Southern Gothic backwoods crime thriller, playing the kind of menacing two-fisted role that made him famous. The movie doesn’t amount to much, but his unique whiskey-spattering, snuff-spitting redneck routine is what he does better than anyone else, and he does it so well in Devil’s peak that he lets you overlook a great number of shortcomings.
THE DEVIL’S PEAK ★★ (2/4 stars)
In the Appalachian Mountains of Jackson County, North Carolina, he is Charlie McNeely, a vicious and ruthless drug dealer whose son Jacob was initiated into the family business. But now Jacob is old enough to find his conscience and a girlfriend who makes him feel guilty. His long-suffering mother has already indulged in a fruitless existence of meth and alcohol addiction, but no matter how hard he tries to ease her pain, his efforts to save her life are wasted. So he thinks about escaping, but his father is a bald, raunchy thug covered in tattoos who rules his rural dynasty with brute force. Even worse, he has an arsenal of weapons that he won’t hesitate to use against anyone who opposes him on either side of the law. And the respectable girl from Jacob’s dreams also happens to be the daughter of the town’s most respected citizen who – alongside one of Charlie’s main enemies – is running for governor and determined to end the McNeely’s source of illegal income. clan. leaving the boy hoping to run away in double jeopardy and lead to a round of contrived and senseless violence.
Jacob is played by newcomer Hopper Penn, the son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright, who manages to steal the movie from everyone else in a few short scenes as the boy’s troubled mother, Virgie. Penn is torn between loyalty to his father and avenging his mother’s suicide. Penn’s inexperience shows up in a performance that’s too bleak and listless to propel the weak story at the faster pace it so desperately needs. It will be interesting to see him again in a better movie than this one. The rest of the cast does a commendable job of trying to give the film some momentum besides the gunfire, but Robert Knott’s script and Ben Young’s spotty direction seem to have been mangled in the editing room. Emma Booth, as Charlie’s salty, caustic mistress, and Katelyn Nacon, as the girl who urges Jacob to let go of his mean father’s control and go straight, are too undeveloped to make much of an impact, and Brian d’Arcy James , as the girl’s politically ambitious. father, barely registers.
This pretty much leaves Billy Bob Thornton alone to carry the film. His folksy way of popularly delivering a multitude of chicken and waffles, as if spitting out buttermilk, pays off, even if most of the lines make no sense. “If this thing goes off for some reason,” he drawls, handing his son a gun, “it’s touching mud and water.” How so? “Have you noticed that the skin on the outside of your lip is thicker than the skin on the inside of your lip?” Eventually you give up trying to figure out what he’s talking about and just watch whatever business he comes up with to make a villainous character interesting in between gunfights. In the end, 90% of the cast is dead and what’s left of the film implodes in a cacophony of noise and chaos. With great Appalachian atmosphere and moments of carefully constructed action, Devil’s peak isn’t a terrible movie, but in the bigger picture, it’s not particularly memorable either. It’s just sitting there on the table, like day-old grits.
Observer Reviews are regular reviews of new and notable movies.