Directed by Atom Eyogan
Written by Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
Starring Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Dane DeHaan, Alessandro Nivola
Hindsight is a marvellous thing. Perhaps if this had been employed before the making of The Devils Knot, this may have become a different film. And then again, maybe not. Atom Egoyan’s interpretation of events surrounding the deaths of three young boys in West Memphis in 1993 is, for some, a well publicised and eminent case. To enthusiasts (if that is the right word) of the complicated story concerning these grisly and brutal murders, there will inevitably be some questions left unanswered by Egoyan’s film. This is only natural. There is little difference, artistically speaking, between an adaptation of a good book, done poorly, as there is a dramatic re-telling of real events not completely researched or concluded early, leaving the story open to interpretation. That’s art for you. You take what you can from it, but only what’s offered.
And if you take a look around the internet, you can gauge the level of displeasure from some of those who feel more acquainted with the minutae of details of this horrible case, in regard to the way that Egoyan has overlooked what some feel are important aspects of not only the trial, but the alleged evidence gathered both during and after the official investigation. If after watching this you wanted to look into the case more thoroughly, then that is your right, of course, but this does not make Egoyan’s depiction of events, in the form of a dramatic reconstruction any less worthy as a piece of entertainment, for that is what it is. If you were a huge JK Rowling fan, for example, would you take the various directors of the Harry Potter films to task for not accurately representing the number of times Harry squeezed Hermione’s bottom while no-one was looking? Of course you wouldn’t. And why? Because its relevance to the storytelling artform is moot.
Yes, you can level inconsistencies at the making of the film with regard to its depiction of possible facts or hearsay, but you cannot then deride the value of the film on the basis of it being entertainment. Judge the film as a film, not as a shining beacon of reality that we should all accept as gospel (an unfortunate example, I’ll admit, athiests).So, now we’ve offered a nod to closet private investigators all over, it might be politic to view Egoyan’s effort here on the basis upon which it was clearly created. And as there doesn’t appear to be too much evidence to suggest that this has ever been claimed to be a defnitive and final statement on what actually happened then judging it purely on its artisitc merit would seem to make most sense.The performances from our main talent vary. The story of the disappearance and tragic re-appearance of the three local boys, found naked and bound in the river, is a sobering and often troubling tale. Detractors will argue about whether we needed another grisly reminder of these events, given that there is already documented evidence on film, which appears to be much more in depth (so I’m told). Reese Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims and Colin Firth, the man sent to investigate events on behalf of the defence of three young local men (see main picture) that have been arrested for the crimes.
The film itself is respectful enough of its subject matter and the characters within it not to offend or open old wounds too widely to close again, but still captures quite eloquently the mood of a small town as it struggles with loss, fear, anger and retribution in that order. Egoyan delivers a small town mentality with some skill and the viewer never feels like an outsider when they possibly should. Witherspoon really does have a chance to run the gamut of emotions here and occasionally really hits the spot bob on, but too often are we left to wonder what she is thinking, particularly in the sometimes extraneous courtroom scenes that provide too little detail to be warranted.
Firth does his best to pull of a southern accent and mostly gets away with it, but you do sometimes get the impression that he is having to concentrate so hard on sounding right, that he is forgetting to put everything into a scene that we know he is already eminently capable of. Subsequently, he appears to be under-performing and never really convinces that he has the drive and passion for the project that the real Ron Lax displayed before, during and after the trial of the young men in question.
Overall, it’s a sometimes harrowing, always highly watchable piece of entertaiment, based on real events, but still knowing its place in the grand scheme of things. It will not deliver closure for most people that are aware of the story already and may frustrate some because of that. The performances are good enough not shame the memory of those featured but equally they may not entirely do them all justice either. Brutal, horribly realistic and mortifying, Devil’s Knot is an example of just how awful humanity can be, featured in more places here than you might expect. Relevant and pertinent enough to make you look deeper into the real story behind the film, so as a catalyst for a call to action, this may just have done its job.