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Review: Devil's Knot (TIFF 2013)

Sep. 9, 2013by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: The true story of the arrest and trial of the West Memphis Three, from the perspectives of the mother (Reese Witherspoon) of one of the victims, and the private investigator (Colin Firth) who works for the defence.

REVIEW: Director Atom Egoyan's managed to do the impossible. He's taken one of the most fascinating true crime tales of the last twenty years, and turned it into an utterly dull feature film. Egoyan, who's an extremely celebrated Canadian director, and something of a TIFF legend, has made a film that would seem more at home on the small-screen (although I doubt it would even be good enough for HBO), despite the presence of a top flight cast including two academy award winners in the leads.

This is certainly a major flop for all involved. Damien Echols has been outspoken in his opposition to the film, but he need not have worried about the way he's portrayed. He's almost a bit part in Egoyan's film, with all the focus being saved for the two roles played by movie stars, Witherspoon's Pam Hobbs, and Firth's Ron Lax. Suffice to say, neither of them are at their best here, although both try.

For one thing, Witherspoon is a ridiculously idealized version of Hobbs. Witherspoon put on a few pounds to make her come off a bit frumpier, but she's not terribly convincing, in a role that's really not that fascinating compared to the other players in the case. Meanwhile, Colin Firth tries really hard to disguise his English accent and disappear into the part. He does his best, but hasn't got much to work with, despite getting the lion's share of the screen time, as he delves into the satanic panic that gripped the town following the killings.

Miscast as some of the players may seem, they're not the real problem with DEVIL'S KNOT. This could have been overlooked if the film had been even slightly gripping, but Egoyan's pedestrian direction utterly torpedoes the film, turning it into just another procedural. Anyone who's interested in the case should already know the facts and players pretty well, with the PARADISE LOST trilogy and WEST OF MEMPHIS. Fact is, any of those four documentaries is one hundred times more absorbing and cinematic than DEVIL'S KNOT is.

Another stupefying move was the decision to limit the scope of the film to the first trial. It ends with the initial conviction, and none of the subsequent investigation or fifteen year crusade to have these men freed have any part in this, other than a text recap at the end. What a bizarre decision, especially given the cinematic possibilities of what happened next in the case. Even if Egoyan wanted to limit his focus, that would have been fine if at least he'd done something- anything- interesting with the material. Witnesses and suspects played by well-known actors (including Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos) come and go. Alessandro Nivola plays Terry Hobbs, whose part in the case is still controversial, and plays it fairly middle of the road. He makes him a bit of a red herring towards the end, but even still, Hobbs, just like everyone else, is never made into a really interesting character.

There probably is a great West Memphis Three movie to be made, but the makers of DEVIL'S KNOT do not seem up to the challenge. This is a footnote that merely regurgitates facts a lot of us already know, and never dramatizes them in a gripping, absorbing way. It's never anything other than dull. If you want to learn about the case, just watch WEST OF MEMPHIS instead.

Source: JoBlo.com

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11:06AM on 09/10/2013

Does being pregnant count as "putting ona few pounds" for a role?

Reese was 7 1/2 months pregnant when she filmed this. That hardly counts as "putting on a few pounds to make her look a bit frumpier."
Reese was 7 1/2 months pregnant when she filmed this. That hardly counts as "putting on a few pounds to make her look a bit frumpier."
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12:08AM on 09/10/2013
Skipped this in favor of catching up on sleep before Night Moves this morning - your review reassures my decision. Thank you!!
Skipped this in favor of catching up on sleep before Night Moves this morning - your review reassures my decision. Thank you!!
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7:46PM on 09/09/2013
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my Aunty Sienna just got white Lexus IS 250 Sedan from only workin on a pc at home... go right here ,, www.buzz90.com
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4:45PM on 09/09/2013

Hurmmmm...

Wow. I can not believe that they only went up to the initial conviction. That's insane. Every aspect of this story is fascinating to me, but it surprised me when I heard they were making a narrative because you can't top the docs (though I have yet to see West of Memphis). I also think everyone in the country knows something about the case so if they wanted details the docs are the way to go (but I live in AR, so I don't know how big of a deal it was in other states)
Wow. I can not believe that they only went up to the initial conviction. That's insane. Every aspect of this story is fascinating to me, but it surprised me when I heard they were making a narrative because you can't top the docs (though I have yet to see West of Memphis). I also think everyone in the country knows something about the case so if they wanted details the docs are the way to go (but I live in AR, so I don't know how big of a deal it was in other states)
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4:25PM on 09/09/2013
I'm not gonna bother with this - The three Paradise Lost films and West of Memphis are amazing, watch those instead. Also, When making a movie where almost all of the characters are based on hard looking, hard living, white trash people perhaps Egoyan could have uglied up the actors instead of getting clean, American apple pie actors like Reese Witherspoon to portray them.

Terry Hobbs is guilty as fuck, for the record.
I'm not gonna bother with this - The three Paradise Lost films and West of Memphis are amazing, watch those instead. Also, When making a movie where almost all of the characters are based on hard looking, hard living, white trash people perhaps Egoyan could have uglied up the actors instead of getting clean, American apple pie actors like Reese Witherspoon to portray them.

Terry Hobbs is guilty as fuck, for the record.
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2:23PM on 09/09/2013
I have yet to see a good film by Egoyan. So this review sounds about right.
I have yet to see a good film by Egoyan. So this review sounds about right.
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