Going into The Devil’s Knot, I couldn’t have known less about The West Memphis Three, the Robin Hood Hills murders, or the ongoing facination and outcry for the mishandling, and injustice that surrounds the deaths of those three little boys. Despite the media attention, the multiple films and books based on the subject (most recently West of Memphis which was at TIFF last year), I did not go into the film with a ready-built sense of outrage – but believe me, I left with one.
For those, like me, who are unaware of the story, watching the events unfold will be an emotional journey. From the boys disappearence, to the (very graphic) discovery of the bodies, the jumble of arrests, interrogations, confessions, interviews and stories, and eventual convictions. All the while we are shown the emotional struggle of one particular grieving mother, Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon), as she starts out outraged and angry – and hell bent on accusing the three young men arrested for the crimes for her loss. As the movie, and story progresses our doubts are solidified and continue to grow, as do hers. The climax of the film doesn’t offer any consolation whatsoever – in a very intentional way, we are left wanting more. More answers, more justice, and more resolution – just as the people involved in the actual events surely feel.
The actors assembled to tell this important story are all at the top of their game. Whitherspoon offers a powerful understated performance, Colin Firth offers us a serious and sensible Ron Lax (Former FBI Profiler, and Adviser to the public defenders), and each of the supporting characters show a genuineness, regardless which side they are on. Atom Egoyan skillfully tells the story with his specific agenda in mind, letting us know the overwhelming chaos of the situation, without singling out one specific villan.
While this particular story has been shared over, and over, I think this unique, character-based retelling will offer a more subtle and accessible introduction for those of us who were unaware of it. The Devils knot offers a whirlwind of chaos with an emotional core, the type of film that grabs your attention and holds it tight.