There is a saying that goes “Truth is a lot stranger than fiction” and in the case of Atom Egoyan’s (Chloe, Adoration) he has taken a very interesting true crime story and rendered it rather punchless. A waste of rather good source material. I could have been an examination of small town prejudice and how justice isn’t always served instead it is a labourious retelling of the facts…and just the fact. Precious little human element to what is essentially a procedural courtroom drama.
In 1993 in West Memphis, Arkansas three young boys all aged 8-years-old were brutally murdered. Their horrific condition of their bodies indicated that they had been tortured. The entire community was scared, shocked that something like that could happen there smack dab in the middle of Bible Belt and finally angry. Attention and suspicion soon turns to three teenage boys who have been known to have trifled with Satanism. Despite their claims of being innocent the teens are all arrested and dubbed the West Memphis Three. Quickly they are brought to trial, found guilty and two are given life sentences while the third is sentenced to death. For one of the mother’s of the victims and the private investigator who is working pro bono the search for the truth does end with the sentences.
I really was surprised at the failure by Egoyan to make this into an interesting picture. He has built a career upon depicting small town life not being all it’s cracked up to be. Somehow even with all his experience he manages to fumble so badly that the film ends up feeling like a bad Movie of the Week. He ends up just retelling the facts of the case which are all very well known by people who followed it or watched the trilogy of documentaries called Paradise Lost. No new ground is broken or looking at things from another perspective is attempted. It all just leaves you with the question “Why?” as you are watching…if you haven’t fallen asleep by the thirty minute mark of the almost two hour film.
And he has done this with a really talented cast comprised of Reese Witherspoon (Walk the Line, Legally Blonde), Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, Love Actually), Mireille Enos (from television’s The Killing), Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, War of the Worlds), Stephen Moyer (from television’s True Blood), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek: Into Darkness, I, Robot), and Elias Koteas (Shutter Island, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button). None of the actors are to be faulted as they are given precious little to work with.
Another decision by Atom Egoyan (?) that really did not help the film was his decision to just end it abruptly at the end of the trials in 1994 that led to the convictions. Especially when the attempt to free the three young men went on for another fifteen years. Evidence uncovered and the public’s outrage at the injustice that occurred. It seems like in Egoyan’s mind that all this nearly two decades warranted was some text on the screen at the end of the film. Missed opportunity… as the whole film ends up being.