by David Koon
"Devil's Knot," the feature film about the West Memphis Three case starring Oscar winners Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon, saw its debut at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this week, and reviews have been decidedly mixed, trending toward a critical miss. The film is based on investigative reporter Mara Leveritt's book of the same name, and directed by Atom Egoyan.
With only five reviews in, the film currently has a 20% "fresh" rating on RottenTomatoes.com. While praising some of the performances, many early reviewers question why the film needed to be made in the first place given the four feature-length documentaries about the case. Others say that the film's plot — which only follows the action up through the convictions of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin — misses the point of biggest drama and emotion: the 18 year fight to set the three men free.
Indiewire's Kevin Jagernauth: "'Devil's Knot' lacks potency or a compelling narrative reason why anyone remotely familiar with the case needs to be watching it..."
Variety's Scott Foundas: "Egoyan and screenwriters Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman seem stymied by the sheer breadth of the material, trying to tell a story in less than two hours that took the first “Paradise Lost” movie two-and-a-half hours to wrap itself around. As our guide, they give us Firth, awkwardly cast as Ronald Lax, the Memphis private investigator who offered his services pro bono to Echols’ defense team. Though Lax is a real person who made significant contributions to the WM3 case, here he feels like one of those invented composite characters routinely forged by screenwriters to carve a path through some dense narrative thicket, while Firth himself never fully convinces as a Southern gentleman, spending much of the movie looking as though he might melt from the heat."
The Hollywood Reporter's John Lefore: "Far from being overkill, the well conceived drama, enlisting A-listers Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth in key roles, will bring this infuriating tale of injustice to many mainstream moviegoers for the first time; it has every hope of a strong commercial reception and the attraction of even more attention to a horrifying crime whose perpetrator or perpetrators remain free."
MTV: "The worst thing you can say of 'Devil's Knot' is that it is a West Memphis Three story remade in a Hollywood style for audiences with no interest in documentaries. But what’s disconcerting is the probability that, even if you are unfamiliar with and have no particular interest in the documentaries already made on this subject, you are nevertheless likely to be familiar with the basic facts of the case, embedded as they so comfortably are within the popular imagination."
Don't fret about the reviews too much, WM3 fans. We'll always have "Paradise Lost."