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Devil's Knot (2013)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/10/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/9/2014
What is the job of a docudrama? Is it just to entertain? Is it to educate the audience? Is it supposed to faithfully re-create every detail of the event which it is portraying? This may all depend on the subject matter. If the film is depicting an obscure event or profiling someone who isn't a household name, it may be able to take more liberties with the real-life story. However, if a movie is determined to spotlight something which is well-known, it will then need to tread lightly and make sure that it is doing everything right. More importantly, it must be more entertaining and engrossing than anything which the viewer may have previously seen on the subject. This was the challenge facing The Devil's Knot, a film which has chosen to examine the story of the "West Memphis 3" murders.
Devil's Knot opens in 1993 in the small Arkansas town of West Memphis. Stevie Branch (Jet Jurgensmeyer), Christopher Byers (Brandon Spink), and Michael Moore (Paul Boardman Jr.) all go out to play together, and the next day, the murdered bodies of the three young boys are discovered. Stevie's mom, Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon), is distraught and demands justice. The West Memphis police soon arrest three teenaged boys -- Damien Echols (James Hamrick), Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether), and Jessie Misskelley, Jr. (Kristopher Higgins) -- and charge them with the murders. Despite the fact that there is no physical evidence linking the boys to the crimes, the fact that they wear dark clothing and listen to heavy metal has made them suspects. Private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth) learns of the trial and feels that it's a witch hunt. He travels to West Memphis and begins to look at the crimes himself. As he finds that the police are most likely looking in the wrong places, it becomes clear that true justice will have no place in the trials.
Devil's Knot is based on the book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three by Mara Leveritt which explores the real-life story of the three teenaged boys who were accused and convicted of killing three pre-adolescent boys. This story had previously been dissected in theParadise Lost series -- three documentaries made for HBO -- and West of Memphis, a feature-film overseen by Oscar-winner Peter Jackson. While West of Memphis had its moments, the Paradise Lost are an excellent source of information on the case, as they cover the nearly 20-year span of this incident and its after-effects and offer in-depth interviews with nearly everyone involved. The filmmakers involved lay out the facts and only the most jaded viewer won't come away thinking that justice was not served in this case.
Which brings us to Devil's Knot. This may be somewhat of a moot question, but I'll ask it anyway -- Why was this movie made? Given that we already have four documentaries and God know how many news stories covering this case, why was it deemed necessary to make a dramatic movie based on this story? Did they have a new slant on the facts or new information? Was this a way to get the story out to more members of the public? And how was such a powerful cast lured to this project? Along with Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth, we have Stephen Moyer, Dale DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Alessandro Nivola and Amy Ryan.
All of this leads up to the question of Devil's Knot's quality. Honestly, it's incredibly difficult for me to objectively judge the film because I'm so familiar with the material. So, instead of judging the movie as a whole, I'll have to take it in bits and pieces. As one would hope, the cast is excellent. Witherspoon clearly studied footage of the real Pam Hobbs, as she does a good job of mimicking some of her mannerisms. She conveys a real sense of confusion and loss in the character. A scene with her in Stevie's school is particularly touching. Although, this is one of the few scenes which is moving. I remember becoming quite angered at times which watching the documentaries, but Devil's Knot failed to bring forth any strong emotions. The entire film feels very cold. The movie does a good job of laying out the facts of the case, but many aspects are condensed or glossed over, so this isn't an exhaustive look at the true story.
One hates to pre-judge things, but given the cast involved here and the fact that the film tackles a well-known subject, the fact that Devil's Knot basically went straight-to-video could give some viewers pause. While the movie isn't a disaster, the fact that it doesn't come close to being as good as the documentaries which proceeded it certainly hurts its chances of being a must-see.
Devil's Knot mentions Bojangles more than any movie ever on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Image Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably reds, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good, as we can make out textures on objects, and the depth is acceptable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The court-room scenes provide some nice surround sound effects, which includes a few individual sounds. The stereo effects are nicely done, as we get a few hints of sounds coming from off-screen. The musical cues provide some subwoofer participation.
The Devil's Knot Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "The Making of Devil's Knot" (7 minutes) contains comments from Director Atom Egoyan and Author Mara Leveritt, as well as Witherspoon and Firth. This basically looks at the reasoning behind how the project came together and what the themes of the film are. In "Getting Into Character: The Cast of Devil's Knot" (8 minutes), the actors talk about the challenge of portraying real people. The Disc contains two DELETED SCENES which run about five minutes. Both of these are brand new scenes, one of highlights the Paradise Lost crew, while the other features actor Johnny Simmons.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long