Based on the kind of true story you'd prefer not to know is true.
Few parents would be able to think of something worse than the loss of a child. Devil’s Knot teases us with an answer, juxtaposing the murder of three young boys with the death sentence that may be levied upon their three suspected murderers... who may be innocent.Incisive director Atom Egoyan – who has made a name for himself delving into the human psyche, often explored through tragedy – takes things one step further here, as the inhabitants of a small town are overwhelmed by grief when three young children are found in the river, naked, bound and dead; but grief turns to blind rage when they think that they have found individuals that they can blame for the crime.Egoyan overtly echoes the Salem Witch Trials with his based-on-a-true-story tale of a town that turns on the three teens suspected of the murder of these young boys. The parents, religious community, law enforcement and even the judiciary can’t see clearly when faced with the potential to excise all of the hatred that they feel over the crimes committed upon these three teens.
Reese Witherspoon manages to dress down for the occasion as the almost dowdy grieving parent of one of the young boys, struggling to survive the event, countenance her feelings towards those who may or may not have committed the crimes, deal with her blinded-by-rage husband (Face Off’s Alessandro Nivola) and come to terms with the fact that justice may not be served by the steamroller movement towards executing these men.
True tragedy hits home, as Egoyan gets under your skin with his tale of small town prejudice.
Smaller parts open up for CSI: Miami’s Rex Linn as the lead investigator, Sabotage’s Mireille Enos as an attention-seeking townswoman, The Place Beyond the Pines’ Dane DeHaan an alternative suspect, and Egoyan regular Elias Koteas, but the meat goes to Colin Firth as an outside investigator who offers to do the legwork for the overwhelmed defence lawyers. Firth brings perspective in a town which lacks it, but it is a testament to Egoyan that he never paints his tale with the kind of prejudice that this town exhibited - the kind of prejudice they almost deserve - instead slow-burning the events in all their true-to-life horror, until they reach the inevitable climax.
Whilst not a perfect film - Egoyam's best work often comes from true tragedy, but perhaps taking on the notorious story of the West Memphis Three was a little too ambitious - and whilst an innately upsetting, dissatisfying, unpleasant piece, there's still much of worth here. Not knowing the truth is, perhaps, knowing the truth, and Egoyam hammers that home with precision.
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