Colin Firth-Devil's Knot-485
Courtesy of Image Entertainment

It’s impossible to approach this film about the West Memphis Three without acknowledging the fact that it comes in the wake of four high-profile documentaries: Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s Paradise Lost trilogy and Amy Berg’s West of Memphis, produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh. That, plus the media attention the original Arkansas murder case and its aftermath have received beg the question of what a dramatized feature on the subject can possibly offer.

Watch Reese Witherspoon’s performance as the heartbroken mother of an 8-year-old murder victim and you’ll find the answer. There are some things a documentary cannot do that a conventional movie can. Using the material in Maya Leveritt’s 2002 book, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, screenwriters Paul Harris Boardman and Scott Derrickson, and the talented director Atom Egoyan, paint a picture of the principal figures in the case and the community where the crimes and murder trial took place.

Reese Witherspoon-Alessandro Nivola-485
Courtesy of Image Entertainment

Colin Firth, sporting a reasonable Southern accent, plays Ron Lax, a private investigator who couldn’t help getting involved in the case after seeing how the local police, and the defendant’s lawyers, were missing out on seemingly obvious evidence. Alessandro Nivola is quite good as Witherspoon’s aloof husband Terry Hobbs, and other key roles are filled by Dane DeHaan, Mireille Enos, Elias Koteas, Kevin Durand, Stephen Moyer, Amy Ryan, Martin Henderson, and Bruce Greenwood.

The biggest problem with Devil’s Knot is that it only covers the first phase of the story and sums up decades of subsequent developments with a few title cards. For viewers who already know the true-life saga this movie may seem redundant, or simply unnecessary, but it accomplishes what it sets out to do fairly well.