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Devils Knot
Genre Crime

True crime has that extra little sting, which makes the experience of reliving it all the more terrifying. That's why shows like Medical Detectives seem to draw us in. We're compelled by the stories because they actually happened. This slice-of-life angle is enticing and only compounds our curiousity in the most detestable cases.

Devil's Knot is one such film that recreates a harrowing true story about three boys, who went missing in West Memphis, Arkansas. The small town was devastated by their disappearance and the revelation of their dead bodies sent the townsfolk into a witch hunt for Satanists believed to be at the heart of the ritualistic killing.

Atom Egoyan is a director who doesn't shy away from difficult subjects. He confronted terrorism in Adoration, genocide in Ararat and devastating tragedy in The Sweet Hereafter. In Devil's Knot, the director takes a note from The Sweet Hereafter, by dealing with yet another small town tragedy.

While it stars Colin Firth, an actor already familiar with Egoyan, the lead role of Ron Lax seems like it was written with A Time to Kill's Matthew McConaughey in mind. Both films have their similarities, presenting difficult court cases in hostile and biased communities, where the quest for truth seems secondary to the pursuit of exacting mob justice.

Colin Firth holds fort, but doesn't feel quite at home in this Southern crime drama. Perhaps mastering the accent, playing a perceived second fiddle or resonating with his character's strong convictions made him seem a little uneasy. On the whole, the supporting performances are strong. Reese Witherspoon plays a slightly ambiguous role as a grieving mother opposite a complex stepfather in Alessandro Nivola.

Kevin Durand, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood and Mireille Enos add more weight to the ensemble. Durand's take on John Mark Byers is impressive, DeHaan brings more sinister rebellion as a local youth, Greenwood holds his usual authority as Judge and Mireille Enos is manic-to-comedic in a small, somewhat jarring performance as a meddling mother. James Hamrick makes a strong showing in his feature film debut, playing the apathetic and fatalistic ring leader, Damien Echols.

Devil's Knot plays like a chronological order of events docudrama. The storytelling is somewhat choppy and scatter-shot as we jump from one re-enactment to the next, pointing the finger in all directions. Just like All Good Things, this crime drama sheds light on an unsolved mystery. The story and characters are creepy, darkly intriguing and fascinating enough to hold our attention, but the drama isn't as gripping as it could have been.

Instead, we're intellectually invested in Lax's detective work as he investigates the grisly murder, sketchy policing, inconsistent witnesses and fallible evidence. The injustice creates tension in this slow-boiling mystery as we're exposed to a swirling list of suspects and forced to answer difficult questions.

Devil's Knot is provocative entertainment that works, despite its minor hitches. Several documentaries have been created since the 1993 event, making this foray seem a little late in the game, but this little crime drama will be appreciated by those who haven't been exposed to the West Memphis Three.

The bottom line: Curious

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