Atom Egoyan, an inconsistent but sometimes brilliant director (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica), delivers his very worst film with the misguided botch job that is Devil’s Knot. The film is a dramatic representation of the child murders that were the subject of four documentaries (the Paradise Lost films and the Peter Jackson produced West of Memphis). Egoyan casts Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in major roles, and everybody just seems lost in a film that feels truncated with no sense of direction. The story of the three little boys murdered in Arkansas, and the witch-hunt that followed and resulted in the wrongful incarceration of three men for over two decades, is a powerful one. Even though the story has been told in the documentaries, it could’ve made for the subject of an amazing film. What Egoyan delivers is a standard courtroom drama and a stilted, confused performance from Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, mother of one of the murdered boys. Witherspoon’s approach to Hobbs is muted and dull. She captures none of Hobbs’s personality. The casting of the actual West Memphis Three (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr.) is uninspired, and the characters barely factor in the film. Instead, the movie spends most of its time with Firth as Ron Lax, a private investigator who doesn’t do much in this film other than act mildly appalled. This story is a crazy, sad, tragic mess. The movie feels like a made-for-TV effort that the producers decided to make R-rated at the last minute. Echols himself has publicly decried the movie. He couldn’t be more right. (Available for rent on iTunes, and VOD during a limited theatrical run.)

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