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|Index||69 reviews in total|
Why You Might Like It: This movie is an above average murder
mystery/courtroom drama. It is based on real events, which is something
that definitely makes the film more intriguing and interesting. The
cast is well put together and the acting is on par for the most part.
Witherspoon and Firth deliver solid performances and the supporting
cast do a fine job. I thought the movie had a nice flow to it and the
some of the cinematography was well done. I do give the director credit
for some of the scenes in the film that are a little troubling to watch
because I believe it is important to the final product. I don't believe
I would make the trip to the theater to see it, but it is well worth a
Why You Might Not Like It: I will say that the content is disturbing and there are parts of the movie that are really hard to watch. Afterall, this movie is about the brutal murder of three young kids. This isn't something that is depicted off camera, but instead there are parts and images shown in plain view that will bother most viewers. There are a couple of the roles in the movie that seem to be a little overacted and stereotyped, but that is just my opinion. I also thought there were a few spots in the movie that were a little choppy, which had a minor effect on the way the film plays out.
Entertainment Value: 6.5*
Total - 7+6.5+7+6.5 = 27/4 = 6.75* - Well worth a rental
"Devil's Knot" is a slightly fictionalized account of a famous triple
murder that happened in West Memphis, Arkansas back in 1993. Three
young men were convicted of killing three small children and much of
the evidence presented in court was testimony that the alleged
perpetrators were young, listened to heavy metal music and had an
interest in the occult...along with about 10,000,000 other teens at
that time! The film talks a lot about the conflicting evidence,
recanted testimony and holes in the case. And, it gives two other
possible perpetrators who were never prosecuted. But, because the
community was looking for convictions and because there was a strong
cultural belief in the existence of satanic murder cults, folks seemed
more than willing to see these three teens convicted
and so they were.
The film does work very well in convincing the audience and providing an entertaining film. Your heart will certainly get caught up in the film and it will have a strong impact on viewers. The director, production staff and everyone associated with the film did quite well. When it comes to the acting, it was also very good all around. I was particularly impressed by Colin Firth--who sounded amazingly NON-British in the movie. This came as a bit surprise.
If you are looking for a thorough examination of the killings, the folks involved and subsequent trial, this film may leave you a bit cold, unfortunately. For dramatic reasons, the film chose to focus on one particular mother (probably because she was played by Reese Witherspoon) and completely ignored the other two grieving families--a very, very odd omission to say the least and something that seems a bit offensive. If you are interested in all the details of the case, then see "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills", "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations", and "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory"three documentaries about the infamous 'Memphis Three' directed by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Overall, the movie is a good, well-constructed drama and a reasonably fair representation of the case--albeit far from a perfect one. It's worth seeing and entertaining but not a film for kids to see because of the subject matter. And, if you do watch, you might want to keep some Kleenex handy...it has a few gut-wrenching moments.
This movie is based on a real murder case, and that case is simply far
too complex to jam it all in to a logical movie of 2 something hours.
The film makers simply missed the mark on this and did a very poor job
of turning this murder case into a story line for a film.
As a movie, it felt extremely disjointed. They flicked between different time points very quickly, which made it difficult to grasp how much time had actually passed between events. There is very little character development so viewers are left without any idea of who most of the people actually are, which is especially sad given that there are real people behind every character. In terms of the case details, they had some very odd choices in what to include and what to leave out, and they dramatized certain things but down played others. I feel they misrepresented certain people and certain relationships, and didn't seem to present much of a story.
Overall it was just a terrible movie. Such a shame that they managed to do such a poor job given that this movie is based on a real murder case with plenty of very interesting people.
From a competent director like Atom Egoyan, one would certainly expect
a bit more than this sub par effort, that looks and feels like a cheap,
made for TV movie, in every way. Filled with dull court scenes, and a
preachy vibe throughout, as though the film was made specifically to
prove that the 3 boys were innocent of the charges. It is hard to
imagine that a movie dealing with such a fascinating subject matter,
could actually be boring; but Egoyan and his cast manage to deliver a
completely lackluster product. Even Reese Witherspoon, who usually
turns in good performances, is just awful in this. Somehow her Southern
accent sounds completely fake...even though the actress IS Southern! It
felt like the actors didn't put any feeling into their roles, perhaps
because even they realized that the script was so uninspiring. And if
the people involved in the project can't find inspiration, how is the
audience supposed to feel anything at all? The only bright spot in this
film is the appearance of the up and coming actor Dane DeHaan, who is
usually the best thing about any production he appears in.
Unfortunately DeHaan is on screen for less than a total of 10 minutes.
For those interested in the infamous 'West Memphis Three' murders, the documentary "Paradise Lost" is still the most interesting film on the subject. Later this year, there is yet another movie on this subject, due to be released in November 2014. Hopefully that film will handle the material better than this lackluster effort..
STAR RATING: ***** Saturday Night **** Friday Night *** Friday Morning
** Sunday Night * Monday Morning
In 1993, three young boys were found murdered in the river of a southern town in America. The finger of suspicion fell on several heavy metal obsessed teenagers, who were suspected of being involved in devil worship. On learning that the death penalty was being considered, attorney Ron Lax (Colin Firth) springs in to action, assembling a legal team to represent the boys in court and overcome the hysteria of the town. While desperate for closure and keeping a narrow grip on her sanity, Pam (Reese Witherspoon), one of the bereaved mothers, is also unable to clear herself of doubt over the boys guilt.
While not what could be called a fact is stranger than fiction piece of work, Devil's Knot also has a more engaging quality somehow on the grounds that it's based on a true story, serving as it does as an examination of the legal system, and of people's small mindedness and tendency towards knee jerk reactions in the face of acts of over- whelming evil. In as unflinching a style as one can expect from modern films, it dramatizes the true horror and subsequent raw emotions of a small town on the edge. It's helped no end by reliably stellar performances from the lead stars and supporting cast, and it's all pretty on the level, but it's also sadly not the sum of it's parts.
As well as staging it all pretty well, director Atom Egoyan also strives to keep the authenticity to a high standard, with Firth delivering a fine American accent, at the top of every other little minor detail. Somehow, though, he manages to muddle the pace up, delivering a film that while telling a compelling story, is detailed in a slightly meandering, plodding fashion that stops it being the sum of it's parts. The parts this effects most is the conclusion, delivering a pay off that could have been electrifying, but as a result is merely perfunctory.
Still, it's a riveting, interesting real life thriller, boosted no ends from great turns by two reliable lead performers. ***
"If you don't have a strong case the state is gonna kill 3 young men and I can't stand by and watch that happen." In 1993 three 8 year old boys were savagely murdered. The state tried three teenagers as adults for the killings and claimed they were murdered as part of a satanic cult ritual. This is the story of the trial and how Ron Lax (Firth) tried to help the defense and how one of the mother's (Witherspoon) dealt with the loss and aftermath. I knew very little of the actual story going in. This is a movie that reminded me of the Aviator in the way that I watched a documentary and read more about the events after it was over and found those to be better and more interesting then the movie. The cast is great and has many big names as well as 3 Oscar winners, but at best this felt like a made-for-TV movie. I found it hard to really get into and was disappointed especially with this cast. I'm not saying it's not worth seeing but if you get a chance read and watch anything else on the West Memphis Three, you will be more informed and more interested then you would if you watch this movie. Overall, not bad but could have been so much better. I give this a B-.
Based on the book by the same title, DEVIL's KNOT is a docu-drama about
the 1993 ritual murders of three eight-year-old boys in West Memphis,
Arkansas. This film does not contain any basic information that is not
already covered in the documentaries PARADISE LOST and WEST of MEMPHIS.
It does, however, provide some fairly interesting reenacted personal
perspectives of the various parties: victims' families, the accused
"Memphis 3" and certain of their friends, the police and prosecution,
the defense teams, etc. DEVIL's KNOT makes for a compelling enough show
and is expertly filmed with decent but not great acting. Though I'm
sure that there are some misrepresentations of certain details, it is
faithful to the basic events of this case. The biggest limitation is
that those who have read the various books and seen earlier films will
not find anything terribly new here while casual viewers who are
unfamiliar with the case will find all the various characters and
shifting perspectives confusing.
Colin Firth gives a nice performance as private investigator for the defense Ron Lax; ditto for Reese Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs. DEVIL's KNOT might have worked better with a stricter focus on one or maybe both of these characters, even if that meant ignoring certain other people and factors in the case.
Regardless, this film is very revealing of how incompetent police work, selective use of evidence by the prosecution, and public hysteria in this rather superstitious Bible Belt community led to the denial of reasonable doubt for the accused "Memphis 3." Without telling you what to think or pointing the finger unduly, it also cursorily examines other potential suspects. There are some brief bits of courtroom drama, but again, the focus changes just as things get really interesting.
In short, DEVIL's KNOT is quite watchable, but the attempt to tell the entire story in a narrative of less than two hours is inadequate and dissatisfying.
WARNING: Though there's not a lot of gore, there are some brief and graphic post mortem shots of the young victims.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Atom Egoyan's Devil's Knot is a wholly unnecessary exercise. Here is a
fictionalized recreation of the brutal 1993 murders of three elementary
school boys from West Memphis Arkansas that has already been documented
in Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's brilliant 1996 documentary
Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and its three
subsequent follow-ups. If you've seen those films then you already know
all the players. Those films were intricately detailed portraits of
West Memphis with all its oddball characters and bizarre hysterical
theories that led to the conviction three teenagers that the community
believed were serving the devil. By this point, what can Egoyan's
fictional narrative tell us that we don't already know? The short
answer: not much.
It is not for lack of talent. Egoyan is a brilliant filmmaker. His most effective landscape has been the wilderness of his native Canada. His best films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter deal with events in The Great White North in a way that never seems generic because the territory seems as familiar to him as the letters in his own name. In stepping outside his usual landscape, he finds himself wading knee-deep in the waters of our expectations. They recreate the events without the intricate details so their film comes off feeling like a barely passable reenactment.
What is presented in Devil's Knot (which is named after the wooded area in which the three boys were found) is a fictional narrative that never comes close to the details presented in Berlinger and Sinofsky's documentary. The monumental task for Egoyan and his screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, is to create the same kind of creepy effectiveness that we got from the documentary. Yet, where the documentary had the advantage of prying into the private lives of the families and the legal team, this docudrama finds its focus on Ronald Lax (Colin Firth), the private investigator who worked with the defense pro bono. In doing so, many of the major players remain off-screen. The three accused teenagers, Jesse Misskelley, Damian Echols and Jason Baldwin remain shadows here. We see them fleetingly, mostly in the backgrounds.
The same goes for the families. There were six families devastated by this crime, but the film focuses almost exclusively on Pamela Hobbs the single mother of one of the victims. She's played by Reese Witherspoon in a performance that feels somehow muted and unfocused, as if the real meat of her performance was left on the cutting room floor.
What is strange is that Egoyan and his screenwriters would focus on the relatively banal figure of Hobbs (from a fictional standpoint anyway) when the most curious mainstay of the case has always been John Mark Byers, the stepfather of Christopher Byers, one of the murder victims. Byers was always the most outspoken of the grieving parents, a creepy and laconic man who spoke passionately about his faith in God while his background contained elements of a life of bitter chaos: DUIs, blackouts, hallucinations, violence, a brain tumor, restraining orders. Plus there was that strange business in 1996 when his wife Melissa (and Christopher's mother) suddenly died of "undetermined causes." Those details are to be found in the documentary. In Egoyan's film, Byers is seen fleetingly in the backgrounds.
Even from the standpoint of filmmaking, Devil's Knot never really breathes with life. Egoyan is the master of his canvas, an expert at knowing how to paint a portrait of a grieving town, as he did in his great 1998 film The Sweet Hereafter about the deaths of several school children when their school bus crash through the ice. The weight of that film came from the community that had to deal with those events. It could reasonably be hoped that he could create the mourning atmosphere of West Memphis, Arkansas that led to the suspicions and hysteria about Satanic cult rituals on which the three teens were accused. Yet, it doesn't work because our brains are so fine-tuned into the real facts and the real people, that any fiction feels phony by comparison.
I have seen a lot of people trash this film, and if you are looking for something on the level of Angelina Jolie's "Changeling", you will be disappointed. If though, you are tolerant of a low budget but effective dramatization of a very tangled, disturbing, and tragic story about 3 young boys losing their lives to murder and 3 young men losing their lives to a group of detectives and justice system blinded by emotion, you will appreciate this film. Reece is fantastic as the mom of one of the victims. She is the big name in the film, though you will recognize several actors who are not quite up to her level of star power. I am a bit of a junkie on this case, and I was not disappointed. I think it does a fair job of presenting the defense's perspective. Granted, if you think they are guilty, and there are many who do, then you will be angered by its presentation. Nonetheless, I was very pleased with it.
For decades now, Hollywood has been mining the headlines for
inspiration. It was only a matter of time before studio executives
turned their attention to the West Memphis Three: a trio of teenagers
who were convicted - most likely wrongfully - of murdering three young
boys and sentenced to life in prison. You might imagine that the
resulting movie would be every bit as disturbing, tragic and thought-
provoking as the actual case itself. But Devil's Knot is more
respectful than effective as a film, covering the facts without really
getting to the heart of the matter.
On a summer day like any other, Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon) waves goodbye to her little boy Steve as he heads off on his bike with his two friends. It would be the last time she sees him alive. When three bodies turn up in a rain-washed river, the local authorities conclude that the murders bear shades of a Satanic ritual. As a result, other leads - a bloodied man stumbling into a diner near the scene of the crime, a young man (Dane DeHaan) with an odd interest in the boys - fall by the wayside. Instead, three teenagers with an interest in the occult - Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether) and Jessie Misskelley Jr. (Kristopher Higgins) - become the targets of a community and legal system eager to find answers, even if it means looking in all the wrong places.
It's easy to see why these murders, which took place in 1993, have remained so compelling and fascinating, even twenty years later. Mixed up in the heartbreakingly tragic loss of three young lives are weighty themes of prejudice, religious bias and the miscarriage of justice. With new leads consistently popping up that continue to throw the original judicial decision into doubt, it's small wonder that private investigators like Ron Lax (played by a rather miscast Colin Firth in the film) find themselves turning over and over the facts of the case, trying to figure out how the police narrowed their search in a way that seemed to lead to obvious - and likely erroneous - conclusions.
But Atom Egoyan's film never really delves into the horror and humanity of the story it wants to tell. At some point along the way, the film shifts into documentary mode, hitting the story beats but never really finding its heart. There are a couple of emotional moments that come courtesy of Witherspoon's shell-shocked Pam, but very little insight is otherwise provided into the psyches of the characters. We spend hardly any time with the parents of the other two victims, and we're never really given the opportunity to come to grips with the seemingly stone-cold Damien or his two alleged accomplices - a befuddled Jason and a haplessly confused Jessie.
For anyone unfamiliar with the West Memphis Three, Devil's Knot will serve as a good enough primer: it's a dutiful version of the story, with the bare facts alone capable of chilling most people to the bone. But anyone who's more interested in the twists, turns, implications and consequences of the case might be better served by looking elsewhere. There are a few actual documentaries out there - the Paradise Lost series and West Of Memphis (produced by Peter Jackson) - that are considerably more incisive in their approach to these murders.
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