Devil's Knot Review
The Memphis Three case of 1993 was disastrous event in the early 1990’s. If you are unfamiliar with the event, it went like this. In 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys were mysteriously abducted. The boys were found dead the next day, from brutal sexual violence. The town’s religious community and police department were convinced that the boys victims of a satanic cult due to the manner of their murder. A month later, three teenagers named Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jesse Misskelley Jr. were arrested and charged with the crime. Misskelley, who was mentally handicapped, confessed the murder after four hours of interrogation. The three boys were quickly charged with the crime, despite vowing their innocence. The boys hired top forensic workers to prove their innocence, but the judge found them all guilty anyway, Baldwin and Misskelley were both sentenced to life, and Echols was sentenced to death. It wasn’t until 2011 when their case was re-opened and a new judge examined the evidence, and the boys were allowed to walk free.
“Devil’s Knot” focuses on the story of the Memphis Three. It has a great cast, which includes Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Bruce Greenwood and Kevin Durand. Sadly, despite the great cast and interesting storyline, there is absolutely nothing that sticks with “Devil’s Knot.” This is a criminally straightforward movie that takes away all the tension, confusion and overall emotional drive out the movie entirely. Instead of looking at a professional, Hollywood movie, this is a community theater interpretation at best. The actors all seem determined to give good impersonations of characters, instead of becoming the characters themselves. The script by Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson is a wallow. It is completely devoid of the tension and excitement required to make a movie like this special. The direction Atom Egoyan is completely misguided and without merit.
Witherspoon plays Pamela Hobbs, one of the mother’s of the missing children. While I have liked Witherspoon’s work in the past, she was totally wasted here. It seems Witherspoon is just going through the motions of a “concerned mother” instead of becoming a real character; nothing about her performance is unique, nothing raising the bar on characters similar to hers in the past. It seems Firth is trying to be equally boring as Ron Lax, a private investigator brought into the crime. I have also liked Firth quite a bit in the past, but he is also very much wasted in this movie and seems completely lost in the film at times. Both Greenwood and Enos give some of the best performances of the movie, but their characters are so pedestrian, so straightforward, so boring that it is hard to register with them. Greenwood plays the judge handed the case while Enos plays a West Memphis resident who plays a big part in getting the teenagers convicted. Their actions are so self-aware that Egoyan should have given them mustaches to twirl. They both feel like cartoon villains more than actual characters.
If you like movies like this, then I suggest checking out “Conviction” from 2010 starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell or “Zodiac” from 2007 starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. Both films also have to do with true stories about wrongful incarceration and unsolved mysteries and both are much better in their efforts. It is possible for directors to still milk suspicion, tension and excitement from a story that could easily be research online or at the local library. That skill is obviously missing from Egoyan. If you want something about The Memphis Three check out the documentaries “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” from 1996 or “West of Memphis” from 2012. Both do a much better job of bringing the story to life and are much more insightful to this movie. That is another big problem with the film, it doesn’t bring anything worthwhile to table. It is just a lazy, straightforward adaption, featuring nothing concrete and nothing I would return to again for pleasure.
FINAL GRADE: D