Based on the actual events of the West Memphis Three, where three young boys were savagely murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993. Spurred on by the demand from a grieving town, the local police act quickly to bring three "devil-worshipping" teenagers to trial. With their lives hanging in the balance, investigator Ron Lax is trying to find the truth between the town's need for justice and the guilt of the accused. Written by
During the daytime scene at the dead-end where police and media are gathering there is a news van with markings that read "KQWK 17 News - West Memphis." There are no TV stations based in West Memphis, Arkansas. West Memphis gets its local television news from Memphis, just six miles away, across the Mississippi River in Tennessee. See more »
Well, that's all right, mama / That's all right for you / That's all right, mama, just any way you do.
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Nicely details characters, environment, and impact
There was definitely no immediate need for a dramatization of the "West Memphis Three" court case and the brutal murders of Robin Hills, but that doesn't mean we should write off a film that makes an earnest attempt at doing such a thing and doing a damn good job. Devil's Knot is a surprisingly compelling film, working to establish a complete understanding of the tragic murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993, the three adolescents convicted almost entirely on assumption and fear-mongering, and a long, grueling, and emotional trial.
The story was heavily publicized and brought to mainstream attention thanks to three brilliant HBO documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky titled Paradise Lost. The documentaries are nothing short of journalistic brilliance; ones that show access to a great deal of interviews, personal moments of grief amongst family members, and court footage we probably never should've seen. I'd label all three films - with the most recent documentary made in 2012 showing the three boys now as adults entering Alford Pleas and being released from prison - three of the best documentaries I have yet to see.
I'll be the first to say I wouldn't want to be the one making a dramatized film on this case. The case covers a long stretch of time, can often be confusing, there's still questions we don't have answered, and there are a plethora of characters that one needs to include that could easily get lost in a shuffle of information. Simply on the basis that director Atom Egoyan and writers Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson were able to craft a film and encompass most of the significant elements surrounding the case is nothing short of commendable and worth a great deal of praise.
The film shows what happened the day the three young boys went missing, which occurred around suppertime before prompting a countywide search for the young boys. Eventually, the boys were found beaten, mutilated, and appeared to once be hogtied in a shallow creek in Robin Hood Hills, located in a woodsy area in West Memphis. The remaining issue, now, was trying to adequately piece together the information of what happened to the boys and who committed such an ugly, heinous crime.
After an interview with a young boy, who was an apparent witness to the crime, it had been decided that three teenagers - Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin - were the ones who committed the crime and were arrested not only after the bodies were discovered. The rationale for choosing them was that the boys were rather shady in some aspects, wore black clothing, didn't seem to pray or worship the same almighty God the god-fearing town of West Memphis did, and looked beyond religions like Christian and Catholic in favor of Wiccan studies.
It also didn't help that around the time of this case, fear was being peddled by local churches and townspeople about the presence of "Satanism" and "Satanic worships/sacrifices" in Arkansas. Because of this, people and police officers seemed to put names with faces and faces with names, assuming involvement and spreading fear rather than information.
Returning to the film at hand, Devil's Knot hires a wide variety of actors for the laundry-list of roles, whom all do a wonderful job at conveying their characters. The most notable of the bunch is Reese Witherspoon playing Pamela Hobbs, the mother of Stevie Branch, who makes her character more than the distraught mother who has lost her baby, but a distraught mother deprived of answers and active in trying to get to the bottom of the investigation. Witherspoon gives her role strong leverage in the face of roles featuring other distraught women who stew in their own sadness and pity.
Another great performance of the hour comes from the unexpected Colin Firth as Ron Lax, the case's private investigator, who becomes watchful of everyone's actions simply because he can't see an "eye for an eye" case for the three boys who don't seem to be guilty. He hates seeing the town react to killing the three boys to solve/remedy the fact that three other young boys are dead.
One of the many things that struck me about Devil's Knot was the beautiful cinematography, making the film look like more than a Lifetime/primetime, biographical film. Egoyan's cinematographer Paul Sarossy is employed with great effect, beautifully depicting the working class south, paying attention to every detail from the mannerisms and the values to the humidity of the environment at hand.
Devil's Knot concludes with the open-endedness that it needed in order to convey the ambiguity that still plagues this case to this day. Questions are still unanswered, people are still grieving, and the question that still remains is 'if not Echols, Misskelley, Jr., and Baldwin, then who killed the three boys?'. The film does a beautiful job at portraying characters, environment, and impact that a case like this can have, and despite four documentaries (three of which part of a trilogy) being made to showcase the case, having a dramatization exist poses really no harm at all - especially a nicely done one at that.
Starring: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Mireille Enos, Dane DeHaan, Kevin Durand, Bruce Greenwood, Stephen Moyer, Elias Koteas, Amy Ryan, Alessandro Nivola, James Hamrick, Kristopher Higgins, and Seth Meriwether. Directed by: Atom Egoyan.
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