It almost seems too obvious. From the moment that the production of Devil’s Knot was announced, film lovers the world over noted that it was covering material that had already gone well-trodden by documentaries. And it’s not a case like, say, that time a fiction film and a documentary about the Jack Abramoff scandal came out in the same year. The case of the West Memphis Three has been turned into not one but four docs, and they are anything but low-profile. The movies of the Paradise Lost trilogy are among the best-known, most important documentaries of modern times. And West of Memphis struck at just the right time, just as new developments in the case brought it back into the national spotlight.
But that doesn’t mean that a good adaptation of this story couldn’t have been made. In fact, the story of the West Memphis Three is so ripe for Hollywood exploitation that it’s honestly surprising that it’s taken this long for it to happen. It has everything the Oscars love: incredible tragedy, outrageous injustice, and an ending note of inspirational triumph. But Devil’s Knot botches it very, very badly. Even the more problematic documentaries about the WM3 are preferable to it.