Although it’s inconvenient or annoying in the moment, sometimes it’s a good thing when your local Redbox’s blockbuster selection has been wiped out. When you’re in the mood to watch a new flick and none of the known hits are available, that’s when you’re forced to dig a little deeper and investigate films you may have otherwise overlooked.
Such was the case when my failed quest to catch up on the hot new releases resulted in a viewing of Devil’s Knot.
Before selecting it at Redbox, I had heard nothing about the film. Perhaps that was due to the film’s limited May 2014 release, or perhaps I had skipped over any articles related to the film in my quest to keep up to date on Marvel’s upcoming projects. Nevertheless, I found myself going in blind, unsure whether or not I would regret dropping the dollar and change on the film.
Spoiler? I did not regret it.
The Short Version
Devil’s Knot is a true crime drama directed by Atom Egoyan and starring Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, and Alessandro Nivola. The supporting cast is strong, with roles filled by such recognizable faces as Amy Ryan, Bruce Greenwood, Stephen Moyer, Martin Henderson, and Kevin Durand. The performances are mostly solid, with only a few minor veers toward the melodramatic.
The film presents the troubling case of The West Memphis Three: three small town teenagers convicted of the grisly 1993 murders of three local eight-year-old boys. The film does its best to present the troubling case in an unbiased manner, presenting the confusing and contradictory evidence and proceedings in such a way that the viewer can draw their own conclusions.
It’s a film that doesn’t leave you with any clear resolution, but that’s true to the crime the movie’s based on. There are no stand-offs or high-speed car chases, but (despite a few pacing flaws) the film fascinates, and the lack of solid answers will leave you puzzling over the case for days or weeks to come.
The Longer (Less Spoiler Free) Version
The film is based heavily upon Mara Leveritt’s in-depth true crime work, Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three. The book unflinchingly presents what is clearly a botched case and a miscarriage of justice. The convictions of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley are based upon Satanic panic more than any real evidence, with the wildly inconsistent, likely coerced confession of the mentally handicapped 16 year-old Misskelley serving as the prosecution’s foundation.
The film may at times appear disjointed because of threads of evidence that are dropped nearly as soon as they are introduced, such as the bloody man at Mr. Bojangles Restaurant. However, after reading up on the case, it is clear that this too is an accurate representation of actual events. During the course of the investigation, other plausible suspects were ignored and substantial evidence contaminated in the push to seek a conviction for a young man (Echols) that the police had already labeled as a trouble-maker. The film includes short, almost disjointed scenes that cast doubt upon the ultimate convictions, as the bloody man, two of the murdered boys’ step-fathers, and a handful of other suspects all seem just as likely as Echols and the other boys. By the time the trial starts—with heavily prejudiced interference from the judge—it is clear that the truth is still out there. However, it is unclear whether or not it will ever be discovered.
The film is not perfect, but it is perfectly engrossing. I would highly recommend it, especially for your next “based on a true story” fix. Devil’s Knot is available for rental at local Redbox locations or for streaming via Redbox Instant, Amazon Instant Video, or Netflix.