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dir Atom Egoyan
scr Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson
prd Paul Harris Boardman, Elizabeth Fowler, Clark Peterson, Richard Saperstein, Christopher Woodrow
with Colin Firth, Reese Witherspoon, Alessandro Nivola, Dane DeHaan, James Hamrick, Kristopher Higgins, Seth Meriwether, Kevin Durand, Mireille Enos, Bruce Greenwood, Stephen Moyer, Amy Ryan
release Can 24.Jan.14, US 9.May.14,
13/Canada Weinstein 1h54
The unthinkable: Witherspoon and Nivola
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
An omniscient approach to filmmaking makes this account of a series of true events somewhat exhausting. It's an expertly made film that brings out drama on all sides of the story, complete with terrific performances from the entire cast. But there are almost too many big emotional kicks.
It's 1993 in rural West Memphis, Arkansas, as three 8-year-old boys go missing. The whole community starts looking for them, eventually finding their bodies in a place nicknamed the Devil's Den. One is the son of pregnant waitress Pam (Witherspoon) and her frisky husband Brent (Nivola). Another is the son of the trashy John (Durand). And suspicion immediately settles on four oddball teens: elusive Chris (DeHaan), charismatic leader Damien (Hamrick), hapless Jason (Meriwether) and mentally simple Jessie (Higgins). Meanwhile, private eye Ron (Firth) is trying to get to the bottom of things.
Ron's main battle is against easily led people who are convinced this is connected to metal music and satanic rituals. Clearly, the rush to judgement is unfounded, merely targeting kids who don't fit the usual mould. And the judge (Greenwood) and police force stubbornly refuse to face facts. This is extremely distressing to watch, as is some startlingly awful imagery. And Egoyan inventively gives the film a mournful tone that's moody and atmospheric. It helps that it also has a strong ring of truth due to the level of detail.
In addition, the wrenching performances beautifully reflect the horror of the situation, from helpless parents to perplexed observers to rebellious teens who are too smart for their own good. Witherspoon has the most complex role as a woman struggling against her instinct for instant revenge. While Firth is more measured and thoughtful as the only person who seems to care that these three teens have clearly been wrongfully imprisoned.
All of this is assembled with an almost documentary approach, offering multiple perspectives to fill in the bigger picture. This leads to shocking revelations and insinuations that reach a conclusion that isn't satisfying cinematically but feels eerily truthful (and is accompanied by extensive on-screen text). But the most disturbing thing about the film is the portrait it paints of a culture that hasn't moved on much since the Salem Witch Trials 300 years earlier.
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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