West Memphis 3

West_of_Memphis

Editor’s note: Nearly a year after premiering at Sundance, Amy Berg’s West of Memphis hit limited release this week. The following is a re-run of our Sundance review, originally published on January 29, 2012. At Sundance, the film notably included interviews that had been completed mere days before its festival bow. As such, the final product now appearing in theaters is slightly modified from the Sundance version, with more interviews and tighter editing. Not to worry, however, as our faithful Associate Editor Kate Erbland watched the film again, in its final form, and this review remains as applicable as it did in January. When Amy Berg‘s West of Memphis held its first Sundance screening on only the second day of the festival, audience members walked out stunned – not just because of the film’s emotional material, its often graphic crime scenes and autopsy photos and videos, or even because of how it squarely points to a singular perpetrator (one who is, of course, not part of the West Memphis 3), but because the film was undeniably fresh. So fresh, in fact, that two interviews that pop up in the film’s final third both came complete with a time stamp that indicated that they had been conducted the week before the film bowed at the fest – eight days before its opening. While the West Memphis 3 (Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley) were freed in August of last year, their nearly twenty-year ordeal remains almost frighteningly of the moment.

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In which we return to our well-worn beat of covering casting news on Atom Egoyan‘s Devil’s Knot, which will chronicle the real life tragedy and drama of the West Memphis 3. The film has already cast Reese Witherspoon as the mother of one of the murdered boys, Alessandro Nivola as her husband (and a possible suspect), Colin Firth as private investigator Ron Lax, and Mireille Enos as a major witness. Casting on the film has now ramped up so considerably that we’ll just tease you with some names and provide a full rundown of their involvement and possible roles after the break. Amy Ryan. Collette Wolfe. Dane DeHaan. Read on!

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Atom Egoyan‘s Devil’s Knot continues to slowly round out its cast with interesting and perhaps off-beat casting choices. Next up, Deadline Primm reports that Alessandro Nivola will play a crucial role in Egoyan’s film that centers on the real life story of the West Memphis 3. Nivola (Face/Off, Grace Is Gone) has been tapped to play Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the victims in the brutal 1993 murder of three small boys. The role is billed as “pivotal” to the film and, with Reese Witherspoon set to play Hobbs’ wife Pam (and the mother of victim Stevie Branch), the pair’s relationship will “form the backbone of the story.” But Hobbs’ importance in the film is not just of the emotional variety – he’s still viewed as a primary suspect in the case. Hobbs has long been linked to the murders as a possible suspect and, even twenty years later, new evidence continues to come out against the man. Amy Berg’s Sundance documentary, West of Memphis, also paid particular attention to Hobbs as a suspect, with the last third or so of the film focusing squarely on a bevy of new accusations and witnesses who have come out against Hobbs (some of the interviews were filmed just days before the film premiered at the festival).

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Atom Egoyan‘s upcoming drama based on the real-life tragedy of the West Memphis 3, Devil’s Knot, has been quite slowly accumulating cast members, with news on each new member of the production trickling out over the course of many months. Reese Witherspoon joined the cast in December as Pam Hobbs, the mother of victim Stevie Branch, and Colin Firth signed on in February to play Ron Lax, a private eye who offered his services to the WM3 before their trial in 1993. While the project itself was announced all the way back in August, with such delicate material to cover, perhaps Egoyan is taking his time in picking his cast (what an idea!). Devil’s Knot has now added its third major cast member, and it is indeed a delicate role that is being filled – Deadline Seattle reports that The Killing star Mireille Enos will play Vicki Hutcheson in the film. Those who are familiar with the WM3 tragedy and trials surely know Hutcheson’s name – she became a key witness during the 1993 investigation into the murders of children Branch, Michael Moore, and Christopher Byers, a witness who later recanted her statements. The film continues the Golden Globe-nominated actress’ foray into features – she will next be seen in Gangster Squad and World War Z.

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Though it’s taking longer than most would have expected, Sundance doc West of Memphis has been picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics. The deal has been buzzed about since the film premiered at the festival, but SPC has finally gotten around to sewing up the deal for Amy Berg‘s film about the West Memphis Three. Berg’s film, produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, is a new entry into the cinematic world about the Three – Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. Accused and sentenced of the murder of three young boys back in 1993, documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofksy have previously chronicled the case in three Paradise Lost films, but Berg’s film features new information and interviews (some completed mere days before the film bowed in Park City), including particularly damning evidence against Terry Hobbs (a stepfather of one of the boys) and some very close time with Echols and his wife Lorri Davis. Back in January, I reviewed the film at Sundance, calling it both “exceedingly well-executed” and “an essential entry into the horrifying true life tale.” I’m pleased as punch that the film will now be getting a release from an established studio that can push it out to plenty of audiences. A release date has not been announced yet, but we can likely assume that SPC will get out this timely documentary within the calendar year, especially with a number of other feature film adaptations of the story getting into production soon.

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Atom Egoyan’s planned cinematic dramatization of the infamous West Memphis 3 triple homicide story, Devil’s Knot (based on the book by Mara Leveritt of the same name), seems to be trucking along nicely. The first news that came out about this project was that Reese Witherspoon had been cast as Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the three victims in this grizzly murder tale. That gave a project that’s still looking for funding and distribution some much-needed star power. The newest bit of casting news should help in that regard as well. Deadline Eastleigh is reporting that the 2011 winner for the Best Actor Oscar, Colin Firth, is joining the cast as well. That should put even more attention and even a little bit of prestige on this project, which Deadline says is now pretty close to getting funding and distribution deals in place. Firth joins the cast playing Ron Lax, a private investigator working on the case who did a lot of the initial work that cast doubt on the guilt of the three defendants, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. It was his investigation that found DNA in the ropes tying up one of the victims that implicated not the three teenage boys, but Terry Hobbs, the husband of the woman Witherspoon is playing, in the murders.

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