UK Release Date: 13th June 2014
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Atom Egoyan
Writer: Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, James Hamrick, Alessandro Nivola, Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos
Synopsis: When outsider teens are charged with the murder of three children, a morally-driven investigator tries to get to the bottom of the controversial case.
The controversial and ongoing case of the so-called West Memphis Three has proven ripe material for cinema, most famously in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary trilogy Paradise Lost. Atom Egoyan, director of The Sweet Hereafter, has produced the first fictionalised account of the notorious events with the twisty, bleak crime thriller Devil’s Knot.
When Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon) lets her young son go out on his bike with friends, she thinks nothing of it. The next day, police pull three young bodies from a nearby lake, hog-tied at the ankles. Local teenager Damien Echols (James Hamrick), interested in heavy metal music and the Wiccan religion, is arrested and charged with the murders, along with two of his friends.
With Satanism involved and the state seeking the death penalty, private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) attempts to get to the bottom of inconsistencies in the police case.
| "The state is gonna kill three young men, and I can’t stand by and watch that happen."
Devil’s Knot is a hugely atmospheric crime thriller. The scene in which the bodies of the children are recovered is visceral and hugely effective, aided by Paul Sarossy’s bleak cinematography, which recalls Roger Deakins’ work on Prisoners. Deliberate pacing makes the film seem a little overlong, but narrative details are teased out skilfully by Egoyan as he spins the well-known story.
Reese Witherspoon is believable as a grieving mother, even as Colin Firth delivers a baffling performance in which he spends most of his time staring forlornly at her across rooms.
The true star of the film, though, is James Hamrick in what could be a breakout performance as the withdrawn youth Damien Echols. Echols is a complicated character and Echols brings dark depths to the role, reminiscent of Ezra Miller’s chilling performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin. His eerie confidence in the face of his trial is brilliantly terrifying.
| "You’re supposed to be a grieving mother. You start behaving like one."
Devil’s Knot does suffer from being an account of a story that has been told many times before. For those new to the West Memphis Three, it’s an absorbing and surprising take on the material. However, there’s little new here to engage anyone who has followed the various twists and turns as they have happened.
Thankfully, a handful of stellar performances and a bit of flair behind the camera are enough to make Devil’s Knot a solid crime thriller. It also works as an efficient courtroom drama, even if it’s obvious whose side Egoyan is on.
Pop or Poop?
Devil’s Knot is a flawed, but interesting film that suffers from a slightly inflated running time and a truly weird performance from Colin Firth.
It may not be treading new ground, but it benefits from an unflinching approach to the source material and a powerful anchoring portrayal of grief from Reese Witherspoon.
This is a must-see for those needing an introduction into this case, and an interesting footnote for those in the know.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.