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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

If you are not familiar with the case of the West Memphis Three, Amy Berg’s thorough documentary, West of Memphis (produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh), will get you up to speed.

Three young boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, were found dead in a ditch in West Memphis, Ark., in May 1993. The circumstances of their deaths seemed to suggest some sort of satanic ritual—or so authorities thought. They arrested three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., and eventually put them behind bars for more than 18 years.

The film presents much of the information shared in the three prior Paradise Lost documentaries, with a new emphasis on another stepfather and his possible involvement in the murders. If I have a bone to pick with these documentaries, it’s that they point fingers at other suspects, yet present little to no evidence to back their claims. (John Mark Byers, a stepfather of one of the murdered boys, was accused in the second Paradise Lost film; Terry Hobbs, another stepfather, is accused in this film.)

The three prisoners have been released—after accepting a deal in which they pleaded guilty while still proclaiming their innocence. Doing so not only got them out of jail; it saved Echols’ life. (He was the only one on death row.) As part of the deal, they can’t sue the state for putting them behind bars. Meanwhile, the real killer walks free. What these three went through is a travesty, and the state of Arkansas should be ashamed of itself.

In the end, the dude who directed The Lord of the Rings (and co-produced this film) had a lot to do with the West Memphis Three finally walking free. His generosity helped fund their law team.

Special Features: The package includes deleted scenes, film-festival interviews and, most notably, a commentary featuring Berg and Echols, a Blu-ray exclusive.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing