When I first heard about Devil's Knot I was surprised that I hadn't been hearing more from it. It looks and sounds like Oscar winning gold. A first rate cast, a very well respected director, an incredibly compelling story...so I was cautiously optimistic that this would be a really great hidden gem. It has all the right ingredients and yet this story is far too complex and spans far too long a period to be effectively told in the confines of a single average length movie. Sometimes I like to quote other IMDb reviewers when I read something and think to myself "EXACTLY!" Well someone did that. This is a direct quote from emmaline89, "They flicked between different time points very quickly, which made it difficult to grasp how much time had actually passed between events. There is very little character development so viewers are left without any idea of who most of the people actually are, which is especially sad given that there are real people behind every character." I could not have said it better myself. You want to know so much more about these obviously complex characters but the script gives you virtually nothing. There are characters that pop in and out that I'm certain are vital to the overall story but there is far too much to cram into one movie. The "Paradise Lost/West Memphis" Documentary series which I have not watched yet spans decades and goes into intense details on this case. Devil's Knot doesn't even scratch the surface.
Its unfortunate because I thought performance wise Reese Witherspoon was excellent. She shows flashes of brilliance to a completely under developed character. She has the class and talent to actually make the role far meatier than what it written for her. She deserved better than this because she gave it her all and is the best part of the movie. Colin Firth (who is already very hit and miss to me) is a total miss in this. He does nothing with his character which is almost not needed in the story. He is literally just sort of there and most of the time you won't even understand why. He is downright boring in the role which is only partially his fault and partially the fault of the writer. Dane DeHaan gives an alright performance but again, like Witherspoon I think he could have knocked this out of the park, but the script is weak. Still he does the best he can with the material given to him. Kevin Durand was also very good in his role as John Mark Byers. I understand his character is absolutely vital to this case and Byers is generally considered one of the most ominous figures in the case and yet he is severely reduced to barely a supporting person. The chemistry between he and Witherspoon is good and they have a few really great scenes together but nothing ever quite takes off.
Essentially the plot is a mess. It was like they got over-excited and passionate about the story and tried to cram everything in there completely forgetting that for many of us we only know bits and pieces or even less about this story. Visually the film is very well shot. The initial scene of them bringing one of the boys' bodies out of the river was literally heart wrenching. I can't say I'm personally familiar with director Atom Egoyan's work but he is a director that people are always raving about. I certainly don't blame him for the lack of success in this film. I think his style shows and he tries very hard. Instead we turn to our writers. Paul Harris Boardman has formerly penned films like "Hellraiser Inferno" and "Urban Legends: Final Cut." His co-writer worked on the same films. Why in the hell would anyone take such an important and potentially amazing film and put the script in the hands of B-Movie horror writers? I'm furious!! If not for Egoyan's direction, Witherspoon, Dehaan and Duran's performance and their honest effort to squeeze something redeemable out of this...it would have been a complete disaster. Instead we have a sub par telling of what looks like one of the fascinating real crime stories in history. Average in every way. 6/10