'Devil's Knot' Movie Review

"Devil's Knot" Movie Review: 2 Stars

by Roger Moore

If nothing else, the scope of the story of the West Memphis Three / Robin Hood Hills murders should have given "Devil's Knot" director Atom Egoyan pause. A 1993 tragedy compounded by a laughably incompetent police investigation -- and the efforts of the cops, the ham-fisted prosecutors and an already-made-up-his-feeble-mind judge to railroad three heavy-metal-loving young men accused of a Satanic/witchcraft ritual murder -- this decadeslong case was notorious without a feature film treatment.

Intrepid filmmakers / activists made three long award-winning documentaries ("Paradise Lost") that covered the crime, the trials and questions afterward that eventually got the accused set free. Director Peter Jackson even parachuted in for his own documentary.

But Egoyan, perhaps reaching for some of that sublime, understated grief that earned him kudos with his most acclaimed film, "The Sweet Hereafter," plunged in with a truncated, perfunctory and utterly straightforward version of this "true story." The last thing it needed was that sort of treatment.

Reese Witherspoon stars as working-class Pam, whose adoring 8-year-old son, Stevie, was one of three who rode his bike off the end of their West Memphis, Ark., street into dense woods, only to be found naked, murdered in shallow Devil's Den creek.

And even though, right from the start, clues pointed them elsewhere, the cops started looking closely at a bunch of goth-minded teenage boys.

They had the wrong addresses -- trailer parks. They wore the wrong haircuts, listened to the wrong music, read the wrong books. They had the wrong names -- a Damien and a Jason among them.

They had to be guilty. Of something. As a detective admits, with no consequences for his stupidity, the murders were destined to happen because "we've been expecting something like this to happen around here for quite a while."

Elias Koteas plays a probation officer who has listened to one troubled teen's many stories of witchcraft sacrifices with the gullibility of a backwoods rube.

Bruce Greenwood plays the judge who saw nothing wrong with botched evidence handling, mail-order-college-certified "experts" on the occult and massive evidence of police and prosecutorial misconduct.

And Colin Firth portrays Ron Lax, the recently divorced local private detective who makes this case his cause.

"I think three dead kids is enough," he says, throwing himself into the defense team's efforts to save three teens from the death penalty for crimes they almost certainly did not commit.

Firth's character might have been the focus, as Lax and Witherspoon's mother character come to a meeting of the minds over what is being done to the accused, and who might be getting away with murder. But Egoyan got lost in the casting and editing, struggling to find screen time for Dane DeHaan as a kid who was an earlier suspect and for the fathers of two of the boys (Alessandro Nivola, Kevin Durand), whom the documentaries frame in a sinister light.

Egoyan does well by the awful, sad search for the kids and the distraught cops and grief-stricken parents when they discover them. He struggles to find any heart to the story once the clumsy cops and bad police work come to dominate the story. And he loses track of Firth's Lax, who should be the moral center of the piece.

There's too much tragedy, grief and outrage here for a single movie. Egoyan may realize that now. And there's scant hope that Monte Hellman, who directed "West Memphis Three," starring Chloe Sevigny, due out this November, made out any better with this long, convoluted and ugly saga of small-town justice's shortcomings. It's an epic tragedy, and summing it up in under two hours does nobody justice.


About the Movie - "Devil's Knot"

No MPAA rating (for violence, partial nudity, blood). Running time: 1:54.

"Devil's Knot" is based on the true story of the murder of three young boys in West Memphis, Ark. and the murder trial that shocked the nation. May 5, 1993. West Memphis, Arkansas. Three young boys playing in the nearby woods never come home for dinner. In the rush to find and convict the killers, police focus on a trio of teenagers suspected of devil worship. As the mother of one of the murdered boys tries to come to grips with this unspeakable tragedy, she is desperate to believe that the killers have been found and will be brought to justice. It is only when an investigator reveals that the evidence doesn't all add up, that the community is forced to face the reality that the true killer might still be out there


'Devil's Knot' Movie Review & Movie Trailer