Film review: Devil’s Knot

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IN 1967, Martin Luther King proudly paraphrased the words of abolitionist Theodore Parker when he proclaimed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.

That arc took a long time to reach the close-knit Arkansas community of West Memphis.

Devil's Knot. Picture: PA

Devil's Knot. Picture: PA

On May 5, 1993, three eight-year-old boys - Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore - went out to play on their bicycles and never returned home. The following day, the youngsters’ bodies were recovered from a muddy creek in Robin Hood Hills: all three were naked, bound hands to feet with their shoe-laces.

West Memphis’ deeply religious community sought justice and suspicion pointed at 18-year-old Damien Echols, a heavy metal fanatic with an interest in white witchcraft, and his two friends, 17-year-old Jessie Misskelley Jr and 16-year-old Jason Baldwin. After hours of police interrogation, Misskelley Jr confessed to the murders and the three teenagers stood trial.

The accused vigorously protested innocence but a jury found them guilty and sentenced Baldwin and Misskelley Jr to life and Echols to death by lethal injection.

More than 18 years after they entered prison, the men were released on a special plea deal after DNA evidence cast doubt on the convictions.

The case of the West Memphis Three has inspired numerous documentaries including Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s exhaustive Paradise Lost trilogy and Amy Berg’s tour-de-force 2012 feature West Of Memphis.

Devil’s Knot pointlessly dramatises emotionally charged proceedings from the point of view of private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth), who was hired by the defence team to cast doubt on the guilt of the suspects.

Dedicated to the memories of Stevie Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore, Devil’s Knot is a pedestrian reconstruction that lacks any sense of dramatic momentum or narrative focus. The film’s intentions are unquestionably noble but the execution leaves a great deal to be desired.