A notorious American murder case 21 years ago, in which three teenagers were jailed for killing a trio of eight-year-old boys, has been examined in various documentaries.
Now it gets the full-length feature film treatment in DEVIL’S KNOT (15: Entertainment In Video), starrin g Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon.
The teens, known as the ‘West Memphis Three’, were convicted on highly questionable evidence amid claims of a witch hunt and a tabloid frenzy that hinted at satanic ritual.
Much of this dramatic retelling is set around the initial court case and the film runs the risk of fogging the truth by turning the script into an exercise in emotional button-pushing.
While it’s beautifully shot and Firth (as a private investigator) and Witherspoon (as the mother of one of the murdered boys) give powerful performances, Devil’s Knot has too many loose ends.
The closing credits roll long before the subsequent appeals and revelations that continued to grab headlines. Those documentaries offered the attention to detail such a serious criminal injustice warrants.
> Is there anyone in Hollywood who makes more movies than Liam Neeson and Nicholas Cage? The former’s latest is A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST (15: Universal), which plays a bit like Blazing Saddles with a bucketful of modern expletives.
Director, co-writer and star Seth (Ted) MacFarlane is Albert, a frontier nerd who loses his girl (Amanda Seyfried) to the town’s wealthy moustache emporium owner (Neil Patrick Harris). The divine Anna (Charlize Theron) teaches Albert gunplay and love, but he doesn’t know that her husband is feared gunman Clinch Leatherwood (Neeson).
This is the comedic western we were waiting to happen. From the outside, it’s a big old-fashioned cowboy movie, although the laughs seem to hinge mostly on death, sheep and bodily functions, which come thick and fast.
But be warned – this is a very Marmite experience that won’t be to everyone’s taste.
> As for Nic Cage, he takes the title role in JOE (15: Curzon) and shows a very welcome return to form.
In a rural Texas town, a teenager (Tye Sheridan) finds his loyalties torn between his abusive alcoholic father (Gary Poulter) and hard-but-fair ex-convict Joe Ransom, who offers the boy employment and guidance.
Cage keeps his mannerisms in check while still vividly evoking a man driven by cruel demons. The rest of the cast are just as good, from fast-rising young star Sheridan to Poulter, a homeless man director David Gordon Green discovered on the streets, but who died shortly after the film was made.
> Terrific family entertainment is provided by MR PEABODY & SHERMAN (U: Twentieth Century Fox), a crazy history lesson from Dreamworks Animation.
Courtesy of Mr Peabody’s time machine, a genius talking dog and his adopted human son are able to travel back to meet greats like King Tut and Gandhi. But when Sherman breaks the rules in a bid to impress a girl, the past and present get messed up and begin to merge and it’s left to our heroes to disentangle things.
Cleverly written, warm-hearted and fun, historical references will go right over the heads of younger kids, but they’ll still love it.