Based on the events documented in West of Memphis and the Paradise Lost trilogy, this drama takes an almost clinical approach to the story. By filling in so many details and covering so many perspectives, skilled Canadian director Atom Egoyan sometimes loses the emotional connection, simply because there are too many punches to the gut. But it's utterly riveting.
The events took place in 1993 in rural West Memphis, Arkansas. After three 8-year-old boys go missing, suspicion immediately falls on four goth 16-year-olds: Chris (Dane DeHaan) has just left town, but the fiercely charismatic Damien (James Hamrick), hapless Jason (Seth Meriwether) and mentally disabled Jesse (Kristopher Higgens) are arrested and charged with murder. The victims' parents (including Reese Witherspoon, Alessandro Nivola and Kevin Durand) band together in outrage. But private investigator Ron (Colin Firth) thinks the police have wrongly accused these teens of being killers.
The story is a shocking account of a miscarriage of justice, as the community turns on kids who simply look a bit funny and the police and judicial authorities refuse to admit that they may have made some serious mistakes. The rush to judgement is terrifying, accompanied with explanations that falsely link the teens to satanic rituals and death-metal music. Egoyan cleverly builds a sense of outrage from the start, as the film mourns not only the young boys' death but also the horror of carelessly ruining three innocent teens' lives in response.
Within this atmosphere, the cast members all give wrenchingly realistic performances. The film's attention to detail makes everyone complex and shaded, and Witherspoon's role is the most interesting in this sense, as we watch her character make a major shift. By contrast, Firth's performance is a steady depiction of disbelief that no one seems to care that they're on the wrong track. All of this is so carefully documented on-screen that it can't help but feel a little anticlimactic in the end, accompanied by several screens of explanatory text. But it's a beautifully truthful retelling of an important event, and it reveals some urgent, troubling facts about American culture.
Run time: 114 mins
In Theaters: Wednesday 12th March 2014
Distributed by: RLJ/Image Entertainment
Production compaines: Worldview Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 23%
Fresh: 19 Rotten: 65
IMDB: 5.9 / 10
Director: Atom Egoyan
Producer: Paul Harris Boardman, Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein, Christopher Woodrow
Starring: Reese Witherspoon as Pam Hobbs, Colin Firth as Ron Lax, Mireille Enos as Vicki Hutcherson, Stephen Moyer as John Fogelman, Kevin Durand as John Mark Byers, Collette Wolfe as Glori Shettles, Elias Koteas as Jerry Driver, Bruce Greenwood as Judge David Burnett, Amy Ryan as Margaret Lax, Alessandro Nivola as Terry Hobbs, Martin Henderson as Brent Davis, Dane DeHaan as Chris Morgan
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