Friday, November 21, 2014

Devil's Knot: weighing in

Boy is Devil's Knot a piece of worthless shit.

Just wanted to weigh in, for the benefit of anyone curious who still has not seen the film, and for what therapeutic value doing so might have. It's awful - or rather, it's MEDIOCRE, which, when it comes to cinema, is far worse. I have great love for early Atom Egoyan films, love Family Viewing and Speaking Parts, and I still think The Adjuster is one of the greatest movies to get made in Canada; and I have tried and mostly succeeded to at least like some of Egoyan's later films, like Chloe and Where The Truth Lies. Even though Adoration was an unwatchable, ham-fisted, painfully self-conscious PC wince-fest I admired him (a little, anyhow) for at least attempting to make an old-style Atom Egoyan movie long after his arthouse cred has ceased to mean much. But Jeezus K. Rist, is Devil's Knot - which I finally caught up with on DVD, thanks to the They Live video closeout sale - ever one limpdick, bland, obvious, gutless, and totally tepid piece of filmmaking. If this is what Atom Egoyan is reduced to he should retire now, or get a job directing infomercials or something. True, the film was made under the guidance of the utterly mainstream, fuck-your-artistic-pretensions-we-want-to-make-MONEY Weinstein Company, whose very trademark is synonymous with watering down and compromising real cinema, but ANY FOUR of the documentaries about the West Memphis three story are better (to say nothing of the book its based on, which I have read and do admire). And the real shame of it is, there's no reason that the film had to fail as badly as it did. If it had taken some creative license, it could have made very interesting commentary on the smalltown fear of the different. If it had some balls, it could have offered a provocative poke at the mendacity of the American legal system and how badly it can fail (you actually get the feeling that the film is trying as hard as it can to retain our sympathy for the cops, whose incompetence it conceals until well into the story, though it appears to have pervaded the case). Even while sticking to the historical facts, which it more or less does, it could have tried to breathe some life into its main character (though how safe and predictable to make middleclass whiteman investigator Ron Lax the focus; how much more interesting could it have been if the main character had been Damien Echols?). Instead of stirring the pot, it takes one of the more noteworthy injustices of 20th century American justice, cause for outrage and introspection, and makes a trite, safe, lazy NOTHING out of it, a film-by-numbers snoozefest worse than your average made-for-TV movie, which does nothing so well as depress you for having wasted nearly two hours of your life watching it. It squanders all the talent associated with it (including Colin Firth, Bruce Greenwood, and Elias Koteas; if any have been in a worse film I have not seen it). Reese Witherspoon deserves a bit of credit for being brave enough to appear frumpy and unattractive, but nothing interesting is done with her character; you get long shots of her in mourning that are blatantly designed to draw sympathy, but instead just seem maudlin and TVish and repetitive, Egoyan pandering to (and capitalizing on) the sentiments of the audience. There are even some really amateurish bits of writing, dialogue so clunky that no actor should have to deliver it straight faced. I had no reason to think Devil's Knot would be good, but all the same, I'm actually disappointed. Blecch.

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