‘Devil’s Peak’ Serves Up Billy Bob Thornton, Unleashed

Actor's frightening villain offset by lead performer's lethargic turn

Billy Bob Thornton shouldn’t scare a fly.

The “Sling Blade” star is 67 and as slight as a supermodel.

Don’t let his frame fool you. When Thornton locks eyes on someone, it’s terrifying.

That menace gives “Devil’s Peak” a jolt, and boy, does it need it. The southern fried thriller boasts a bland leading man, meaning we need every crooked grin Thornton can muster to keep the tension humming.

Devil's Peak - Official Trailer (2023) Billy Bob Thornton, Robin Wright

Hopper Penn stars as Jacob, the son of an Appalachian drug king (Thornton). We’re told early on, via on-the-nose dialogue, there’s little chance Jacob can escape a life of crime. He’s resigned to his lot in life, at least for now.

And, to be fair, breaking the law has its perks. That’s certainly the case with his pappy.

Thornton’s Charlie has the local law in his side pocket, a beautiful young gal pal (Emma Booth) and dreams of his son keeping the family business afloat.

Except Jacob’s heart isn’t into it. He’d rather spend time canoodling with his girlfriend (Katelyn Nacon), the daughter of a man with no love for Charlie. Jacob also hopes to keep his Mama (Robin Wright) free from her drug haze, a task far easier said than done.

These familiar but well-sculpted elements are bound to collide, but “Devil’s Peak” is in no hurry to get there. That leaves us with Penn, son of Sean and Robin Wright, to anchor the material.

Given that lineage we should be in good, nay, great hands. But young Penn’s intriguing mug isn’t backed by the requisite charisma. He’s dull, and watching him figure out where his life needs to go should be the film’s moral compass.

Instead, we yearn to spend more time with Charlie.

Thornton’s line readings are precious, every last one. Watching him embrace Charlie’s vicious ways is the ultimate acting class. No gesture is wasted. Everything works in unison to create a mood, a moment.

How many actors can emulate what Thornton brings to a role?

“Devil’s Peak” doesn’t shed new light on small-town drug culture or the notion that family determines our fate. The ensemble cast delivers one against-type character, a sheriff who seems both wise and willing to be played as needed.

That’s the great Jackie Earle Haley, who conveys the broken spirit of both his fellow officers and the townsfolk.

Blood will be shed, of course, and the third act offers some crisp scenes worthy of the film’s cast. Penn’s presence, or lack thereof, ensures “Devil’s Peak” is never more than a lovingly crafted thriller bound to be forgotten.

HiT or Miss: “Devil’s Peak” serves up a vintage turn by Billy Bob Thornton, but we need much more from star Hopper Penn to make this family saga soar.

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