While it approaches an interesting real-life story that involves many fine elements of drama, including small-town secrets, cultural panic, and the miscarriage of justice, Devil’s Knot exists in an entirely unnecessary space, as multiple movies and documentaries have already covered this story before, and have done so better.
In 1993, three young boys were found murdered in a small Arkansas town. It quickly became rumored that they were the victims of a Satanic Cult, and being that such fears were at their height in America at that time, this belief took root. Three teens that were guilty of nothing more than being slightly anti-social and involved in things like metal music were accused of the crime, led through a kangaroo court, and were eventually convicted with life in prison for two, and execution for the third. Most of the evidence used to convict them came from a 12 hour interrogation held on one of the suspects, who was mentally handicapped and heavily coerced into giving a confession. These boys became known as the West Memphis Three, and after heavy media coverage and celebrity support, were released in 2011, 18 years after the crime was committed. This was a remarkable travesty of justice that shows many of the dangers of a social witch-hunt.
Devil’s Knot explores this event in 1993 from the perspective of two main characters, Ron Lax (Colin Firth, with a somewhat less than convincing accent), a lawyer who defends the accused, and Pamela Hobbs (Witherspoon), one of the mothers of the victims. These two do a fine job, as both are good actors, but the potential here seems very tapped out. Many films, notably the Paradise Lost Trilogy, have been released on this trial over the years, and very little new ground is broken here. Even worse, a documentary entitled West of Memphis was released in 2012 that covers the entire story from the perspective of retrospect, and is much stronger in exploring the case and as a narrative as a result. Far more events in this story have come to light since 1993, and setting the movie entirely at that time seems to do nothing necessary. The focus on Firth’s and Witherspoon’s characters is also interesting, but ultimately not that important in the light of the story being about the 6 young victims of this tragedy, both living and dead ones.
Devil’s Knot is a competent, but unnecessary movie. If you haven’t heard this story before, check it out maybe, but other films have done so without the added necessity of Hollywood meddling that also happens to a story like this.