Directed by Atom Egoyan
Distributed by Image Entertainment
Devil’s Knot is a courtroom/true crime drama-thriller with horrific subject matter. Based on the Mara Leveritt book Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, the film is a retelling of this infamous case of brutal murder and wrongful incarceration.
For those unfamiliar with the case of the West Memphis Three, it surrounds the events of a triple homicide in 1993. Three eight-year-old boys were killed in ritualistic fashion, leading the police to believe a Satanic cult was involved. The investigation led to the arrest and subsequent conviction of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.
First and foremost, this is an engrossing movie. Even taking the true crime aspect out of it, Devil’s Knot does a fantastic job of drawing the audience in and taking them through a winding tale that gets increasingly interesting as every new stone is turned and more light is shed on the case. Think of it like an episode of “48 Hours” that just happens to feature two Academy Award winners in Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, led by director Atom Egoyan, who’s been nominated twice himself. Devil’s Knot certainly has some heavy hitters in its lineup.
That being said, as entertaining as the movie is as simply a regular movie, when you add in the fact that this is a true story and diligently retold, it gives Devil’s Knot a whole new strength. This is not one of your run-of-the-mill “based on a true story” movies that takes one shred of an aspect from some true crime case and fleshes out a completely fabricated story around it. The filmmakers behind this movie went to great lengths to make it as authentic as possible. Starting by basing the movie on Leveritt’s book, every piece of Devil’s Knot seems to be right on the money. A bit of additional research on the case after viewing the movie confirmed that all the actual names of the citizens and police officers involved were used and all the important details were presented. This was as true to a “true crime story” as you can get.
And this tale does deserve a film as authentic as this is, seeing how huge a story the West Memphis Three became. After serving over 18 years in prison, Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley were released from their sentences (life for Baldwin, life plus 40 years for Misskelley and death for Echols). As word of their case got out, celebrities like Johnny Depp and members of Pearl Jam and Metallica lent support to the WMT before they were finally set free. Devil’s Knot does not get into the aftermath of the case or their release but chooses to focus on the facts of the case, illustrating mistakes by the police and other discrepancies which led to the wrongful conviction. And, although no other suspects have been found, the movie does not shy away from firmly pointing a finger in the direction of others that may have had a hand in the heinous crime.
Devil’s Knot does a great job of illustrating exactly what was going on in West Memphis, Arkansas, during this time. It’s about not only the case but how these crimes affected people’s lives. We focus on Witherspoon as grieving mother Pam Hobbs; we follow private investigator Ron Lax (Firth), who puts his reputation on the line to help prove the truth about the three accused boys; and we see a small town in turmoil as the unthinkable has erupted and the police force has their hands more than full trying to deal with it.
In terms of special features, two pretty short and standard making-ofs, two deleted scenes, and the trailer are included. Not a helluva lot to write home about, which is kind of sad given the amount of information on this case that’s available.
This is certainly not a traditional horror movie, but the subject matter garners it a spot just on the outskirts of the genre. And it’s definitely worth a look. The actors and director are great. The movie looks and feels incredibly authentic and tells a story that’s truly intriguing. When you’re in the mood for a little courtroom drama with a side of Satanism, Devil’s Knot is what you’re looking for.
4out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5