* (out of four)
No matter how strongly you think the latest “Spider-Man” franchise shouldn’t exist, it could never be as unnecessary as “Devil’s Knot,” a repetitive narrative previously captured in three “Paradise Lost” documentaries and another doc, “West of Memphis.”
If somehow you don’t know anything about the case in West Memphis, Ark.: In 1993 three young boys were found dead in a creek, and a haphazard murder investigation soon focused on three local teenagers believed, based on hearsay and rumor, to be involved in Satan worship. One of these young men, Jessie Misskelley Jr. (Kristopher Higgins), had a developmental disability, and his confession was a mix of coerced testimony and pure fiction. Yet in two separate trials, all three were convicted—with Jason Baldwin sentenced to life without parole and Damien Echols sentenced to death.
Starring Reese Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the deceased boys and a miscast, trying-his-best-with-a-Southern-accent Colin Firth as a clueless private investigator, “Devil’s Knot” contributes nothing new and falsely dramatizes reality. SPOILER ALERT!!! As Hobbs’ husband and the stepfather of Stevie Branch, Alessandro Nivola (“American Hustle”) sneers and yells and arrives on screen to menacing music even when he’s picking up his wife from work. It’s not as bad as the ominous nonsense surrounding Rob Lowe in Lifetime’s Drew Peterson story, but it’s not far off.
Dane DeHaan, Stephen Moyer, Mireille Enos and Amy Ryan also are small pieces of the overqualified cast, who likely signed on when they saw Atom Egoyan was directing—focusing mostly on “The Sweet Hereafter,” another story of children and tragedy, and little on his work since. Based on Mara Leveritt’s book “Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three,” the script comes from the team behind “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” It does a pathetic job of capturing the townspeople’s paranoia, deceitful witnesses’ agendas or the case’s progression in any believable way.
There are bits of “Mystic River” and last year’s “Prisoners” here, movies that were far more suspenseful and honest. That should be no surprise, though, when a movie starring two big-name Oscar winners opens only at the Woodfield mall.
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