Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Devil's Knot: Movie Review

An affecting film of injustice, corruption and hopelessness in Arkansas 1993 (or Salem 1693).
“Devil’s Knot” is the story of the West Memphis Three. Three young boys murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas, and the three teenage “devil worshippers” hung out to dry, oh, I’m sorry, I mean accused of the crime. It’s an unfortunate story and an odd movie and one that doesn’t let go until you’re convinced that the world is going to hell in a handbasket. 2013

Directed by: Atom Egoyan

Screenplay by: Paul Harris Boardman, and Scott Derrickson
Based on book by Mara Leveritt

Starring: Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon

The story is told very methodically. First, we are introduced to one of the boys, and his mother. Then we see the three boys go off to Robin Hood Hills and not return. The distraught parents and distraught neighbours started their search, followed by an official search and then the recovery of the bodies. Then the police have witnesses and accused suspects ready to stand trial. At this point the film can seem disjointed with very little search for evidence and even a reasonable story of what actually happened and why. But once the trial starts, that becomes very clear.

The trial, though, is where the film really grabs hold on you. Of course trial is a bit of a misnomer, it’s a witch trial. Investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) would like to actually know if the accused that are going to be sentenced to death are guilty or not, and then we have incompetent laywers, corrupt lawyers, very corrupt cops and a very, very corrupt judge. Because you see, Damien Echols, ringleader of the accused, wears black clothes, listens to heavy metal music and follows the beliefs of Wiccan religion. Individually, it might not mean guilty, but all together it does. Jason Baldwin is guilty by association and for wearing a Metallica t-shirt, and Jessie Miskelley is guilty because he’s too mentally handicapped to prove that he’s not. This is 1993, exactly 300 years after the Salem witch trials, and you can see how little society has advanced.

I liked the film because the inhumanity of it all was very affecting. The film is mostly about hopelessness, injustice, corruption and the herd mentality of people, but followed by a sliver of light at the end. It was made very clear why the town would be so eager to convict these boys, in no small part due to the performance of “ring leader” James Hamrick. Hamrick plays the painfully honest Damien Echols with a piercingly honest portrayal of the – not misunderstood, but disregarded – teenager who is well aware of the hypocrisy of the Christian-believing town who are out to get him. Probably one of the reasons he became interested in Wicca in the first place. Hamrick very accurately represented what reports indicate the real Echols was like.

Photos courtesy of Remstar Medias.
The film is held together by Colin Firth. His character has had years of going up against injustice, but he’s stubborn and determined, and he represents the viewing audience. Reese Witherspoon plays a mother of one of the murdered boys. At first, her character seems to be there just for sympathy (not something I’m a big fan of), but her character also represents the town as a whole, and represents the small fraction of the town who want actual justice, not justice just for the fun of it. And through her, and husband Terry Hobbs (Alessandro Nivola), the film lays subtle clues of where they eventually want to take this story. Presumably the more fictional elements, but one of the best ways to create reasonable doubt of guilt is to create possible guilt somewhere else. But there’s nothing reasonable about “Devil’s Knot”, and I mean that the best way possible. It’s cold, slow and hopeless; only devil worshippers need apply.
Best of 2014
Best Lesser-known of 2014

Similar Titles:

The Conspirator (2011) - Guilty or innocent, "The Conspirator" gets everything right.

Prisoners (2013) - Two suspenseful approaches to one dark crime.