Atom Egoyan returns to familiar territory.
Atom Egoyan (USA, Special Presentation)
Sunday, September 8, 9 p.m.
Visa Screening Room, Elgin Theatre (189 Yonge Street)
Monday, September 9, 9 a.m.
TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 (350 King Street West)
It might be unfair to say that Atom Egoyan’s Devil’s Knot is too conventional. After all, its fictionalized depiction of the trial of the West Memphis Three comes after no less than four documentaries about the same issue. Still, one wonders what challenge Egoyan saw in this material, given how often his tired approach—emphasizing the ambiguity of the case, at the expense of offering his own theories—dovetails with those of his predecessors.
While West Memphis Three documentaries tend to focus on Damien Echols, one of the young men wrongfully convicted of murdering three young boys on trumped-up charges of satanic violence, Egoyan’s version zeroes in on bereaved mother Pam Hobbs (Reese Witherspoon) and the defence team’s private investigator Ron Lax (Colin Firth). Both actors are fine, and, as in his most celebrated film, The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan is keyed into the strange afterglow of a community mourning its young—the haunted new routines of parents who’ve outlived their children. Otherwise, though, this is a shapeless and at times haphazardly constructed project, too broad to hit whatever mark it had in its sights.