Devil’s Knot

HBO’s The Paradise Lost Trilogy. West of Memphis. A number of books, including Life After Death by Damien Echols, and Devil’s Knot by Maria Leveritt.

With so much media saturation in the case of the West Memphis Three, do we really need another account of three boys wrongly accused of a crime that they did not commit? Devil’s Knot is a resounding…possibly.

First, the good. Director Atom Egoyan, as well as screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson mines the best material from Leveritt’s Devil’s Knot to make the movie easy to watch. The book was immaculately well-researched but did not have a sense of urgency to make me want to read on. I already knew that the West Memphis Three were wrongly convicted of the crime of murder, and that a Satanic Panic had taken over the city of West Memphis, Arkansas. This made the Devil’s Knot, (which also refers to an area near where the crime took place, and intractable situation in which the boys found themselves), a sort of a triple meaning.

The case was clearly a miscarriage of justice, though Egoyan elevates more minor characters from the book to serve as our moral guides, particularly Colin Firth as private investigator Ron Lax, and Reese Witherspoon playing Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the murder victims.

Firth is all southern cool, surprisingly believable as a slick haired and bearded outsider, that is never able to fully influence the spectre of the case. Firth falls into the role with grace, and certainly appeared to be continuing the discover Where The Truth Lies.

Lax seems to stand above the fury of the town, but attempts to humanize him further, like his opening scene at an auction, a reheated subplot involving a romance with a diner waitress, and appearances by a soon to be ex-wife detract from the case at hand, (even though Amy Ryan’s presence is always welcome).

Perhaps less successful was Reese Witherspoon’s Pam Hobbs, as an initial believer turned skeptic in the guilt of the three boys. Witherspoon attempts to play lumpy, bad-haired, and corn-fried are just not easily digestible, especially when she breaks into a wide smile and reveals that we knows who she is.

The aspect captured by Egoyan that really stands out is the sense of early nineties, especially in the United States south. The setting and atmosphere are pervading, and when Egoyan stacks the cast with his usual suspects, (Elias Koteas, Bruce Greenwood), they fit quite well into this new environment. It was also somehow appropriate to see actors from True Blood, Mad Men, CSI: Miami populate the tale. Devil’s Knot seemed to be appropriately small-town small-screen.

Devil’s Knot presents a number of alternate suspects, but leaves open room for interpretation. The ending is far too rushed though, and much of the unexplained is left too unresolved.

 

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