You may already know the awful story of the wrongfully convicted West Memphis Three from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's excellent trilogy of Paradise Lost documentaries. Also in the works for the last couple of years, however, has been Atom Egoyan's dramatisation of those events, Devil's Knot, and here is the first trailer, along with a poster. Reese Witherspoon and Colin Firth are the big names in the cast, along with Egoyan regular Elias Koteas.
The West Memphis Three are Jessie Misskelley (Kristopher Higgins), Damien Echols (James Hamrick) and Jason Baldwin (Seth Meriwether), who were accused of murdering three eight-year-old cub scouts in a satanic ritual in 1993. Subsequent investigations, not least in the Paradise Lost films, demolished the original "case", and the consensus now is that moral panic convicted them rather than anything in the way of evidence.
While the three are now free, the Arkansas judge responsible stopped short of actually overturning their convictions, meaning that local law have not had to admit to or apologise for their egregious original work, and that Echols in particular is entitled to no compensation for his 17 years spent on Death Row. The real killer or killers remain at large, although Paradise Lost 3 makes some suggestions as to possible identities.
Egoyan calls the affair "a contemporary Salem witch hunt" and "an amazing story of a community and the conflicting emotional needs of seeking and finding justice, but also the complexities of jumping to conclusions."
"It was very clear to me that there was a miscarriage of justice," he says. "But more interesting to me were just the emotional human elements of the characters. It’s against the backdrop of this horrifying crime and this really unfortunate miscarriage of justice that we all witnessed. It is the most horrific crime imaginable, and the travesties within the legal process are quite jaw-dropping and were not really addressed. I think the documentaries have done a really amazing job of showing that, but there’s a human drama behind it all as well. We can't do everything with this film, but I think we can touch on that... "
The screenplay by Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman is based on Mara Leveritt's book Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, and focuses on the events surrounding the first trial. It's already played at the likes of the Toronto and San Sebastian International Film Festivals, but has no general release dates in the UK or US so far.