Atom Egoyan’s retelling of the horrific murders in West Memphis, Ark., though star-studded and well-intentioned, seems to have left the majority of critics unimpressed. Devil’s Knot, which premiered on Sept. 8th at Toronto Film Festival, features the talents of Reese Witherspoon, Colin Firth, and Alessandro Nivola (Face/Off).
The infamous true story of the trials of three teenagers for the murder of three young boys was adapted for the screen by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman. The consensus, however, is that Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s documentary trilogy Paradise Lost and Amy Berg’s West of Memphis (both of which had been released within the last two years) have already covered the case thoroughly and, arguably, more effectively. It is, perhaps, the comparison between this almost two-hour film and the more than six-hour documentary by Berlinger and Sinofsky that caused the audience to question whether Devil’s Knot could still bring a refreshing take on the story. According to both Scott Foundas of Variety and Kevin Jagernauth of Indiewire, it could not. Both critics mentioned issues of time within the film. Foundas notes that:
“Egoyan’s pic, based on investigative journalist Mara Leveritt’s book of the same name, only covers events up through the two 1994 trials that ended in life convictions for accused perpetrators Jessie Misskelly and Jason Baldwin, and a death sentence for alleged ringleader Damien Echols. Meanwhile, the subsequent two decades of revelations and public outrage — in many ways the most dramatic piece of the story — are relegated to card upon card of onscreen text at the end.”
Jagernauth at one point calls the film a “Cliffnotes version” of the case, which makes sense because Egoyan’s dramatization mostly focuses on the mother of one of the victims, Pam Hobbes (Witherspoon), and the family drama that occurs after the death of her son, while investigator Ronald Lax (Firth) discovers disturbing facts about the evidence against the alleged murderers. While most other reviews follow Foundas’ and Jagernauth’s suit giving Witherspoon and Firth a bit of praise for their performances in a somewhat uninspired film, The Hollywood Reporter review of the movie seems more optimistic offering their bottom line as a “compelling feature treatment of the much-documented scandal.”
See what audiences and critics are saying about more festival premiers here.