The Devil You Know, 2022.
Written and Directed by Charles Murray.
Starring Omar Epps, Michael Ealy, William Catlett, Glynn Turman, Curtiss Cook, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Erica Tazel, Vaughn W. Hebron, B.J. Britt, Murray Gray, Michael Beach, Keisha Epps, Ashley A. Williams, and Theo Rossi.
After a lifetime of trouble, a man has the chance to turn things around with the love and support of his family. As he tries to do right, he finds himself spiraling back into the dark place he overcame.
Everything about writer and director Charles Murray’s The Devil You Know seems to be working against a commendable nuanced performance from Omar Epps, fleshing out temptations of relapse from being surrounded by a toxic family. There’s also a familiar trend among movies to forgive and support family no matter what, a somewhat outdated message with unrealistic expectations. Charles Murray certainly wants to push those themes of familial loyalty and trust to their toxic breaking point.
Marcus Cowans (Omar Epps) is recently released from jail and looking to get his life back with no more distractive vices. Things are also looking up, as his father (Glynn Turman) has gained him a job driving a bus, mom (Vanessa Bell Callaway) has arranged a blind date with a nurse (Erica Tazel) that goes swimmingly despite some initial hesitation on behalf of Marcus, and whatever battles he once succumbed to are now gone. He’s still a work in progress but no longer destroying himself. Such a recovery allows him to position himself as a role model to his brothers.
Elsewhere, three masked intruders have broken into a home murdering a wealthy white family (including the teenage son) for unknown reasons. The situation also prompts the entry of a veteran detective on the verge of retiring (Michael Ealy), putting together the pieces of one last homicide case.
Unsurprisingly, three months later, it is revealed that someone within the Cowans family is connected to the heinous crime, holding a binder of rare baseball cards for a pair of unhinged criminals (one of them played by Theo Rossi, shouting his way through a performance that feels like it’s from a different movie) looking to sell them and make out like bandits. This knowledge places markets in a tough position regarding morality, family, and his new relationship.
While The Devil You Know does have an admirable interest in unpacking Marcus’ options and actions and how the subsequent drama drags him back into his vices and blows up just about every positive aspect of his life, there is little forward momentum in the endeavor. It amounts to many mildly engaging conversations that either go nowhere or could have been cut down to keep the story’s trajectory going at a more respectable pace.
Even when The Devil You Know reaches a suspenseful point regarding the whole truth and what Marcus might or might not do, Charles Murray can’t help himself from escalating the situation a bit too far, ultimately undoing the positives here. The ending starts as tense and with a proper culmination of the themes, only to descend into forced chaos. Worse, the resolution seems to stand by the notion of family first, which is ridiculous given the preceding scene. Omar Epps imbues Marcus with engaging complexity but is betrayed at every turn by the script. That’s the real devil.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com