Starring: Colin Firth, Reece Witherspoon, Dane DeHaan, Stephen Moyer, Alessandro Nivola, Kevin Durand, Elias Koteas
Directed by: Atom Ergoyan
Synopsis: The savage murders of three young children sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual.
Devil’s Knot is a film adaptation of the book of the same name, and is a true account of the case of the ‘West Memphis Three’ who were charged with the murder of three young boys back in 1993. There are better accounts out there of the case, namely the documentaries Paradise Lost and West of Memphis, but as a film, it does it’s job fairly effectively.
For those not in the know, the case occurred in Arkansas in the early nineties. Three young boys went missing and were found murdered in the woods near their homes. The police arrested three ‘outsiders’, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley and seemingly bungle and misstep their way to concluding that the three of them committed the murders. They arrive at this conclusion, rather unsurprisingly for a bible-bashing town, by virtue that the assailants dress in black, listen to heavy metal and are interested in the occult. However, investigator Ron Lax thinks otherwise, and attempts to build a case to help absolve the boys.
The film, despite feeling like a TV movie at times, is a fairly decent thriller. It is probably more effective if you haven’t seen the aforementioned documentaries. It doesn’t add anything new to what you will have seen in those. It also makes some strange casting decisions, including the criminal under use of Dane DeHaan, one of the brightest young talents working today. Colin Firth and Reece Witherspoon do a good job in their roles, and Colin Firth affects a decent enough southern accent.
The film is solid if unspectacular but can be commended for not shying away from what happened back in 1993. There is no graphic violence, but the bodies of the boys are displayed, so you know the true horror of what happened. I think the film needed this otherwise it could have been a bit sanitised. Unfortunately there are some negatives to cover as well. The constant need to put captions on the screen explaining what was happening became annoying, and a clear attempt to tell the viewers where we were in the story, rather than leaving them to figure it out for themselves. And, finally, perhaps the most annoying bit, they stopped the story right when it got interesting! Instead of focusing, even partially on what happened when the three boys were released from prison after a controversial deal was put in place, the film makers just seemed to give up and put rolling captions on screen to sum up everything else. It seemed like a bit of a half hearted ending.
Devil’s Knot is OK as a crime thriller/courtroom drama, especially if it hadn’t been based on real events. As it is, I would suggest seeking out the documentaries instead, which offer far more content and actually more tension.