directed by Atom Egoyan
by Angelo Muredda Something is off in Devil's Knot, the third film about the West Memphis Three in as many years, and it isn't just the Satanic panic that turned a bereaved community against three wrongfully-accused teenagers. Although its Tennessee setting takes him far from his usual haunt of Toronto, this material seemed like a slam dunk for Atom Egoyan, who's done his best work in films about parents dwelling in the endless hangover of their children's premature deaths. It's a shame, then, that his new film feels like a wheel-spinning exercise rather than a deepening of old themes. Egoyan's approach to this tapped-out story hits the dramatic and formal beats you'd expect from his filmography: here we get a child's cryptic, disembodied voiceover about what he's seen; there, a videotaped testimony that conceals more than it discloses. Ambiguity is the name of the game, just like in The Sweet Hereafter, where everything turns on young Sarah Polley's poker face as she ushers the adults around her into the topsy-turvy world of the title.
The trouble here is twofold: first, this is a murder case, not a bus accident, so somebody ultimately killed those kids, and it wasn't Postmodernism. Second, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have been playing real-culprit hot potato with this same trial for years, casting a wave of "who cares" over Egoyan's belated revelation that two early prospects--including a bleeding black man in a diner, whose racial otherness is criminally exploited--were never properly vetted. Devil's Knot isn't a total wash: the eerie moment when an investigator finds one of the dead boy's shoes floating in a creek shows Egoyan still has a knack for sustaining a certain mood. (Call it ominous stupor.) But we've been here before.
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