[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00J0IPLBQ][/pullquote] You might ask what the point is of a dramatized version of the infamous story of the West Memphis 3? There are already a series of excellent documentary films, notably West of Memphis and Paradise Lost 3, which have both been nominated for Oscars. But still we have Devil’s Knot, a version starring Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, which attempts to present the facts of the case in dramatic form based upon the book by Mara Levitt.
In 1993 three boys head into the forest together and never return. After a police search, the boys are discovered with their hands and feet tied together, stripped of their clothes and dead at the bottom of a creek. The town immediately suspect the involvement of Satanists and haul in Damien Echols (James Hamrick) and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) off the testimony of the mentally-challenged friend Jessie Misskelley (Kris Higgins). Private detective Ron Lax (Firth) takes on the defence of the boys and begins to unravel the case of the prosecution and discovers loss of evidence, unreported leads and a potential confession of another youth, Chris Morgan (Dane DeHaan).
It must have seemed like a really tantalising project for director Atom Egoyen to sink his teeth into and one that has already proven to have some popularity in commercial terms. Unfortunately adaptations of real-life events are always a tricky thing to handle, especially when there is no definitive conclusion available, something that David Fincher effectively dealt with in the excellent Zodiac. Film-makers will often bend the truth and change certain elements to help the story flow better.
In the case of the West Memphis 3, which is still very much entrenched in the public consciousness, this proves something that is apparently insurmountable. After an effective opening act, which sets up the early facts of the case, Devil’s Knot then delves into the court-room aspects of the case and this is where the film goes off the rails.
It is clear that the film-makers have their ideas on who committed the crime, but with no actual verdict they are unable to firmly point the finger of blame. Yet this one-sided story-telling, complete with accompanying captions that highlight the incompetence of everyone involved really remove any element of authenticity.
Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon do their best to with the material and each have some effective moments. When the camera needs to remain on the important visual touchstones of the film, Egoyan does not shy away and we see everything in a brutal detail, notably the revelation to the parents of the death of the children.
The real problem is the patchy script that almost relegates the characters to bystanders, with the infamy of the case taking the role of lead character. It’s understandable even though it doesn’t work and once again you have to question from an artistic point of view why they made the film in the first place. With little to no fleshing out of the central characters it’s almost impossible to engage with the film outside of its central premise.