March 10, 2023 / Vortex Media
Billy Bob Thornton, Brian D'Arcy James, Hopper Penn, Robin Wright
Set in the Appalachian Mountains, Devil's Peak it watches as a family is dominated by a crime lord who uses his fists to control both them and his business. When his son meets the girl of his dreams, desperately wanting to escape the life he is expected to lead and free himself from the clutches of his father, he is forced to go head-to-head with the terrifying man who will stop at nothing to ensure loyalty from all of those around him.
Written By Darren
Rating 2.5 out of 5
Devil’s Peak boasts talented turns from Billy Bob Thornton and Robin Wright, but the lead performance of Hopper Penn prevents the film from reaching the emotional and thrilling heights the screenplay sets up.
Stories revolving around families and troubled relationships within them always lend themselves nicely to smaller productions, naturally providing more developed roles for actors to lose themselves in where the budget is not present for visual effects and grand sets. And that is what Devil’s Peak offers and there is no doubt that director Ben Young does his best to elicit strong performances from his cast. There is no denying that he works wonders with his supporting cast, notably from Billy Bob Thornton and Robin Wright, though he is not able to get the same level of performance from the star of the film which unfortunately hampers the rest of the good work in the film.
Based on the novel by David Joy, the film is a crime drama surrounding Jacob, a young man caught between the family business and the young woman he loves. His family runs the local meth trade, led by his kingpin father, in a small mountain town in North Carolina. Jacob has been working in the family business since a young age, but dreams of breaking free and escaping the small town with his girlfriend. But when his father’s business comes under threat by a local politician trying to clean up the town, Jacob must decide whether he is standing by his father or finally breaking free from his shadow.
Thematically, there is a solid story at play here. It may be one that we have seen play out time and time again on screen, but it provides the cast with rich material to work with. The character of Jacob is full of great conflict, being torn between his duty to his family, the love for his mother who was cast aside by his father years ago and is struggling with her own demons, and the love he has for his girlfriend and wanting to leave his family behind and start over again in life. While the screenplay does a great job of portraying the darkness in Jacob’s life, perfectly showcasing why he needs to get away from his father, the film fails to capture the relationship that Jacob is running away for. There are few moments between them, causing the romance and connection to fall flat, with the good in Jacob’s life coming from the relationship with his mother that his father is actively trying to prevent from blossoming. Yes, there are bright moments between mother and son, but they are not enough for the audience to believe that Jacob has seen what he needs to escape to in life.
With Jacob at the center of the entire film, the film rests on Hopper Penn’s shoulders. And unfortunately, his performance does not deliver the lead performance that this film needs to succeed. While he has moments where he shows promise in his performance, tapping into the inner struggle within Jacob between his family and his desire to escape them, Penn struggles overall. He is bland for the majority of the film, failing to capture the emotional weight that the story requires of him. It unfortunately sinks the film as you cannot get a full sense of Jacob and his struggles, leaving the heavy lifting to a screenplay that requires powerful performances to bring the story to life.
Luckily, there is no shortage of good performances when it comes to the main supporting roles in the film: Jacob’s parents. Billy Bob Thornton is excellent as Jacob’s father, bringing to life this chilling drug kingpin. Every time he is on screen, Thornton chews up the dialogue and delivers monologues that will send shivers down your spine before losing control and becoming the very monster that Jacob fears. All in a matter of seconds, Thornton becomes a truly terrifying presence over the entire film and captures the darkness that Jacob is struggling to get away from with complete ease.
Opposite Thornton is Robin Wright as Jacob’s mother. Wright is absolutely heartbreaking in the role, bringing to life this woman who on top of her own addiction struggles, is so damaged from her ex-husband’s work and lifestyle that she is a wreck. There is a dedication to Wright’s performance that instantly allows you to connect to her character’s pain, while also creating this woman that you can’t help but fall in love with. Her scenes are largely with Penn, her real life son, and they have some truly tender moments, but overall Wright is sadly underused in the film.
While there is potential in the screenplay to create a thrilling tale of family and escaping one’s demons, the film never reaches the emotional heights it strives for, causing in the dramatic final act to largely fall flat on the audience. Ultimately, it is the lead performance of Hopper Penn that restricts Devil’s Peak from being the dramatic and tension filled film it should be, despite the strong supporting performances of Robin Wright and Billy Bob Thornton who work wonders in this otherwise drab film.