Please note that this is a capsule review. Our full review is under embargo until the film’s release date, which is TBD.
The West Memphis Three are hardly strangers to the spotlight. Having received a fair amount of documentaries chronicling their story over the years, the trio has surprisingly never received a feature film. Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot changes that though, offering up a dramatization of the heinous events that took place in Arkansas back in 1993.
Those hoping for a tell-all, comprehensive look at what is truly a fascinating story will be disappointed, as this film is not that. Instead, it’s a mostly pointless dramatization that focuses mainly on the trial and initial police investigation, playing out like a courtroom thriller and rarely widening its scope to focus on any of the other moving pieces in this complex and intricate story.
What irks me most though is the complete lack of attention placed on the West Memphis Three themselves. This is really their story and whereas, say, a documentary like West of Memphis really shone the spotlight on the boys and their plight (which really is the crux of this tale), Egoyan’s film instead puts its interest elsewhere, failing to really flesh out Damien, Jesse and Jason and rarely showing the repercussions that this miscarriage of justice had on them.
Even if this was the director’s intention from the start, to focus more on the trials and how they affected the town, the whole thing still feels like a mostly pointless exercise, as it really doesn’t present us with anything new or interesting.
I’ll cut the film a break though, it isn’t all bad. Though actors like Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, Mireillie Enos and more have all done better work in the past, their performances here are adequate and they do get the job done.
Egoyan’s direction on the other hand is a bit clumsy. Tonally, the film is all over the place and certain scenes feel like they came straight out of a TV movie. Though usually a talented filmmaker, Egoyan does not bring his A-game with Devil’s Knot.
The real problem here though is that the film only sets things up, it doesn’t care to show us what happened in the twenty or so years after the initial trial and thus, completely misses the point. It teases intriguing theories but never fully explores them, leaving us with just another re-hash of a story we all already know. There was literally no need for Devil’s Knot to be made. It has nothing to prove and nothing to say.
Perhaps Egoyan had just assumed most of us hadn’t seen West of Memphis or were unfamiliar with this now almost legendary murder case. I don’t know. But as someone who feels strongly about the atrocities that were committed against Damien, Jesse and Jason, I think that Devil’s Knot fails to do the three boys justice almost as much as the courts did back in ’94.