There are many obstacles standing in the way of Devil’s Knot. Making a film about true events always draws extra attention to the matter of authenticity, accuracy and sincerity. Not only does Devil’s Knot use a historically real situation as the basis of its story, but it all revolves around a murder case that, over twenty years on, remains unsolved. When three boys are brutally tortured and murdered, the finger is immediately pointed to a group of young satanic goths who are blamed for carrying out human sacrifices. As the case opens up and the trials commences, it becomes more and more apparent that the prosecution is weak and other elements, such as crucial evidence, has been poorly handled. Although the film centres itself on death, murder and agonising suffering, Devil’s Knot seems most concerned with the behaviour of those involved in the investigation. How we grieve, mourn and attempt to understand the evil in the world is discussed from start to finish in this tragic tale that is half a courtroom drama and half a story about the ethics of law and order. Unfortunately the problem with this film is the frustrating lack of resolution, something painfully true of the real case it recreates.
Reese Witherspoon plays the mother of one of the victims. Through her character we experience the desperate need for justice and closure one yearns for when losing a child in such a way. Witherspoon gives a sturdy enough performance, as does Colin Firth who plays investigator Ron Lax. Lax is determined to prevent the execution of the three boys accused but unjustly proven guilty. He seems to spend more time wandering in and out of diners than he does contributing to the film’s plot. His character is introduced but not very well developed – perhaps due to the limits set by the true story. Devil’s Knot shares a great deal with Clint Eastwood’s Changeling from 2008, in which the true tale of an unsolved disappearance of a child also causes problems for the film’s dramatic elements. Changeling had its own set of problems but was efficiently gritty, raw and well directed. Devil’s Knot, although harrowing in parts and certainly well pieced together, struggles to bring a new angle to such a disturbing real event. The performances aren’t powerful enough and neither are the courtroom scenes but perhaps this is all in the name of naturalism. Devil’s Knot does what it can with an incomplete story of evil and murder but fails to leave a strong enough impact. Where Changeling haunted me, Devil’s Knot seemed quite forgettable.
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