“Devil’s Knot” – Good but not great feature film on the West Memphis Three case
Written by – Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson (Based on the novel by Mara Leveritt)
Directed – by Atom Egoyan
Starring – Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, and James Hamrick
“Devil’s Knot”, the new film from Atom Egoyan (“Chloe”, “The Sweet Hereafter”) is based on the novel of the same name about the murder of three 8 year old children and the trial that followed. The film and novel are both based on the real life case of the “West Memphis three” case of 1993, in which three teenage boys were tried as adults and convicted for the murder of three grade school boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The movie focuses on the mishandling and even manipulation of evidence and testimonies by law enforcement, and how an investigator named Ronald Lax (Firth) attempted to help the defense because of his belief that the accused were not guilty.
I had high expectations for this movie going in. I have always enjoyed Egoyan’s films, and after seeing the incredible “Paradise Lost” trilogy (a series of three documentaries focusing on the details of the real case) I was excited to see this version of the story. Given the star power in the cast, I figured I was in for a good watch with superb acting. Ultimately though, I was a little let down.
“Devil’s Knot” is a decent movie, and maybe even a very good way for those who are not familiar with the case to gain interest, but it is just not the great film of my expectations. Too many of the major players are left with very little focus. The primary example of that being John Mark Byers (stepfather of Christopher Byers) who was by far the most outspoken and even suspicious of all of the victim’s parents. Instead Pamela Hobbs is the key figure, and the result is a relatively flat performance by Reese Witherspoon. Not that she does a bad acting job, she was just not given the character depth or amount of dialogue necessary for the performance to really work. She spends most of the film delivering small lines and just looking sadly into the distance. Even the scenes that show her character’s suspicion of her husband seemed rushed and out of focus. The same goes for Colin Firth’s Ronald Lax. The character just lacks power in his presence on screen.
Again, this is a decent film by a very good director. I just wanted more, and feel like the writers and Mr. Egoyan chose to focus on the wrong aspects of the story. Maybe too much of the movie was left on the cutting room floor. Whatever the case, I would recommend watching the “Paradise Lost” films if you are looking for an in depth, more transfixing account of this horrible crime. It is, after all, a very important story about a very disturbing event and the immense flaws in our justice system.