Devil's Knot (2014) - Rotten Tomatoes

Devil's Knot (2014)

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Critic Consensus: Devil's Knot covers fact-based ground that's already been well-traveled with multiple (and far more compelling) documentaries.

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Movie Info

Atom Egoyan's haunting true mystery about who killed three children in a small town. The police identify three teens, aka the West Memphis Three, as committing the murders during a satanic ritual but the truth may be scarier as a mother (Reese Witherspoon) and investigator (Colin Firth) suspect all is not as it appears. (c) Official Facebook

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Cast

Colin Firth
as Ron Lax
Amy Ryan
as Margaret Lax
Mireille Enos
as Vicki Hutcheson
Stephen Moyer
as John Fogelman
Dane DeHaan
as Chris Morgan
Alessandro Nivola
as Terry Hobbs
James Hamrick
as Damien Echols
Seth Meriwether
as Jason Baldwin
Kris Higgins
as Jessie Misskelley
Robert Baker
as Detective Bryn Ridge
Collette Wolfe
as Glori Shettles
Rex Linn
as Chief Inspector Gitchell
Bruce Greenwood
as Judge Burnett
Matt Letscher
as Paul Ford
Michael Gladis
as Dan Stidham
Martin Henderson
as Brent Davis
Ted Huckabee
as Steve Jones
Elias Koteas
as Jerry Driver
Kerry Cahill
as Jo Lynn
Jet Jurgensmeyer
as Stevie Branch
Paul Boardman Jr.
as Michael Moore
Julie Ivey
as Melissa Byers
Stan Houston
as Detective Donald Bray
Gary Grubbs
as Dale Griffis
Matt Stanton
as Detective Durham
Brian Howe
as Detective McDonough
Clay Stapleford
as Detective Mike Allen
Stephanie Steward
as Domini Teer
Bill Murphey
as Marty King
Brooke Jaye Taylor
as Officer Regina Meeks
Isabella Zentkovich
as Amanda Hobbs
Quincey Bonds
as Court Officer
Morgan Pelligrino
as Reporter at Court House
Arvell Poe
as Bloody Muddy Man
Brandon Carroll
as Bobby DeAngelo
Haley Craft
as Teenage Employee
Amber Chaney
as Older Employee
Scott Poythress
as Criminalist
Chase Crandell
as Marion High School Boy
Judd Derek Lormand
as Desk Officer
Corey Wright
as HBO Cameraman
Katie Kneeland
as Ron's Secretary
Abigail Monet
as Girl on Stand #2
Annabel Lawton Boardman
as Girl on Stand #1
Carolyn Etheridge
as Girl at Weaver
Brandon Wood
as Trailer Park Teen #1
Joey Nappo
as Trailer Park Teen #2
David Ramsey
as Baptist Preacher
Lindsey N. Moser
as Teacher at Weaver
Stephanie Astalos-Jones
as Marion High School Teacher
Brandon Spink
as Chris Byers
Ron Clinton Smith
as Police Sergeant
Orelon Sidney
as Memphis TV Reporter
Jonathan Splencer
as Polygraph Examiner
Gary Weeks (II)
as TV Reporter at Weaver
Holly Firfer
as Tabloid Reporter
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Critic Reviews for Devil's Knot

All Critics (87) | Top Critics (23)

Takes a long time to tell us nothing we didn't know ... A missed opportunity.

June 10, 2014 | Rating: 2/5 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

Comes across as a cinematic, slightly dramatized Cliffs Notes edition a story that's been told often.

May 13, 2014 | Rating: 1.5/5 | Full Review…
Richard Roeper.com
Top Critic

It's not a bad film, exactly, but it's a jumbled, uncertain one, and it never quite makes a compelling case for itself.

May 9, 2014 | Full Review…
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic

There are too many major characters and too many points of emphasis. As elegantly directed as it sometimes is, it feels disjointed, scattered.

May 9, 2014 | Rating: 2.5/4 | Full Review…
RogerEbert.com
Top Critic

A rather dull docudrama that doesn't have a strong reason to exist, outside of perhaps a financial one.

May 9, 2014 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
Newark Star-Ledger
Top Critic

An exhaustively researched - and, quite frankly, very exhausting - adaptation of journalist Mara Leveritt's book.

May 9, 2014 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic

Audience Reviews for Devil's Knot

No more insight than what's generally known of this high profile case. The execution fails in creating the thrilling atmosphere. Not a great piece for those who are new to the tragic event either. 0.25/5 for it didn't bore to death as feared.

familiar stranger
familiar stranger

Super Reviewer

In 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas, three eight-year-old boys went out late one night to ride their bikes. They were never seen alive again. The ensuing media circus that erupted lead to the conviction of three teenagers (The West Memphis Three) who many believed were innocent of these heinous crimes. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before. It was the basis of three stirring, powerful, galvanizing documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, two men credited with saving the West Memphis Three. Now after their release from prison, here comes the first fictional film about the notorious case, Hollywood’s first crack at well-tread material. Is there anything new to be found? Director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Chloe) and his screenwriters do a credible job of distilling the complicated case against the West Memphis Three to its basics, relying on a modulated tone that shies away from the sensationalism that dominated the case back in 1993. With the benefit of time and hindsight, it’s easy for the movie to point out the erroneous thinking of the prosecution, the jump to conclusions, and the Satanic panic engulfing the community of Arkansas. We’re told by a police officer that they knew this “Satanic cult stuff” would hit town; they’ve just been waiting for the day. To its credit, the movie does a fine job of calmly and objectively pointing out the deficiencies in the police and prosecution’s case against the West Memphis Three. We’re told that from the twelve hours of interrogation with Jessie Misskelley, only 40-some minutes was recorded. The obvious mistakes in his confession, as well as the police coaching and coaxing him to their desired response, is made readily apparent. There’s “witness” Vicki Hutchernson (Mireille Enos of the oft-canceled The Killing) who says she say chief suspect Damien in a Satanic ritual, but the film cuts back from the imaginary to Vicki watching a movie on TV, the real source of her descriptive flourishes. Egoyan’s direction has a calm, objective overview that is reverent and respectful of the dead and the bereaved. It’s rarely boring and the facts of this case are such that any retelling would be somewhat compelling. So that brings me to the ultimate question: why even make a fictional movie about this subject? Four lengthy documentaries have covered the intricacies of the legal story, the breakdown in justice, and the personal toll on all sides of the crime. The only thing a fictional movie provides is: 1) the fun/distracting game of seeing relatively famous actors play the real-life people we’ve previously seen, and, 2) as an option for people who hate documentaries. If you’re one of those people who dislikes documentaries and doesn’t view them as “real movies,” then Devil’s Knot is for you, you dismissive filmgoer. Otherwise, literally everything was handled better in the Paradise Lost films. With the West Memphis Three thankfully out of prison, the omnipresent sense of urgency from the documentaries is now absent, replaced with a Monday morning quarterback sensibility pointing out all the obvious bias, judicial hypocrisy, and flaws of the case. And as anyone who has plowed through the powerful and addicting documentaries knows, there are plenty of flaws to point out for harsh scrutiny and incredulity. Movies have a long history of showing us an example of judicial injustice, and this is a prime example. However, Egoyan has put the emphasis of his movie on two outsiders rather than people in the center of this case. The West Memphis Three themselves are barely supporting actors in their own movie. I suppose the filmmakers may have wanted to present a different angle to the case since the Paradise Lost films showed the accused up close and personal. The construction of this plot just doesn’t work under the perspectives of Pam (Reese Witherspoon) and Ron (Colin Firth). Ron serves as a pro-bono adviser to the defense, but that doesn’t mean he has the same access inside and outside the court. He can gather evidence on his own but really this guy is meant to be a fly-on-the-wall for the planning and frustration of all the legal roadblocks thrown at the defense. Is an added body in the room necessary? Could not one of the defense attorneys have provided the same purpose? Instead, he gets to grumble in the court and out about all the legal shenanigans going on to railroad innocent boys. He is essentially spelling it out to an audience. Pam has even less narrative purpose in the film. Her perspective makes sense early on as the mother of one of the murdered young children. Her panic, her worst nightmare come to life, it all makes for the stuff of major drama, which is why you’d imagine Witherspoon was drawn to the part. But once the case against the West Memphis Three gets going, Pam transforms into our Chief Reaction Shot Provider. Whenever a curious moment happens in court, we cut back to Pam and Witherspoon cocking her head in dawning curiosity and uncertainty. It’s as if she is meant to symbolically represent the entire community that was so fervent in their beliefs that these boys were guilty… until they heard the shaky case and the questionable experts put on the stand. So Pam and Ron end up becoming signals to the audience on how to feel and what to think. The movie doesn’t have enough faith in its audience to keep up with the minutia of the trail, or even the lawyers’ arguments, reducing a complex legal trial down to two nonessential characters nodding or shaking their heads. I’ll admit that I did have some fun watching the actors inhabit the roles, and there are scads of people involved in this story. Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek) does a valiant job showcasing the head-scratching decisions of the trail judge, David Burnett, and his slimy dismissive nature. Stephen Moyer (TV’s True Blood) is particularly infuriating as John Fogleman, chief prosecuting attorney. Seth Meriwether (Trouble with the Curve) looks eerily like his character, the young and accused Jason Baldwin, and he nails his moral convictions and gentle nature. Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) gets to do his troubled youth thing he does so well. Kevin Durand is an actor I normally enjoy but even he can’t do justice to John Mark Byers, step-father to one of the slain boys, and easily the most memorable figure in the Paradise Lost films; the man is so theatrical and larger-than-life, and yet Devil’s Knot treats him like a featured extra, with many of his speaking scenes off camera. There isn’t a bad actor in the extremely large cast, though Firth’s Southern accent isn’t the most refined. If the movie lacks much reason for existing, at least the bevy of good actors respectfully bringing new life to these people, good, bad, and many somewhere in between, is the one credible quality to this movie. What to make of Devil’s Knot, an example of a decent, modulated, and well acted movie that ultimately has no reason to exist in the wake of three excellent documentaries (Paradise Lost) and one other pretty good one (West of Memphis). The ground has been covered. However, that doesn’t mean that a well-told story can’t be told again, with a different angle, with a different approach, but Devil’s Knot hinges on two characters serving as metaphorical barometers to teach the audience what to think and how to feel. Then there’s the matter that the trail covers the entire 114-minute running time. There’s so much more that happens after the initial trial, so much that the last two minutes of this movie are almost a nonstop barrage of text updating the audience on many of the post-trial developments, including the West Memphis Three being released from prison in 2011. The movie feels too limited; there is so much more depth here, to the details of the case, to the personalities and human drama, to the story after the trial. Egoyan and his cast and crew have made a respectful fictional version of these sensational events, but the problem is that they don’t do enough to justify their own film’s existence. Unless you have an irrational hatred for documentaries, just watch those instead. Nate's Grade: C+

Nate Zoebl
Nate Zoebl

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Directors Cat
Directors Cat

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