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15 May 2014

Home Video Review: Oscar-Winning Leads and a Compelling True Story Are Wasted in 'Devil's Knot'

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Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola in Devil's Knot. Reese Witherspoon and Alessandro Nivola in Devil's Knot.

Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson-produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, yet everybody seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction.

The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the resulting witch-hunt that resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three teenagers for two decades, is powerful. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could be the subject of an amazing film. However, what Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama, featuring a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach to Hobbs is muted and dull. She captures none of Hobbs’ personality.

The casting of the West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr.) is uninspired, and the characters barely factor in the film. Instead, the movie spends most of its time with Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who doesn’t do much here other than act mildly appalled.

This film is a sad, tragic mess. The movie feels like a made-for-TV effort that the producers decided to make R-rated at the last minute.

Echols himself has publicly decried the movie. He couldn’t be more right about this one.

Devil’s Knot is available via various online sources including iTunes and Amazon.com.

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