Coming off lackluster middle-brow efforts like this year’s “Water For Elephants” and the 2010 James L. Brooks mega-flop “How Do You Know”, it’s nice to hear that Reese Witherspoon has just attached herself to a smaller project that’s being directed by Atom Egoyan – a filmmaker who, if not exactly at the peak of his career, continues to make interesting character-driven projects like last year’s “Chloe” starring Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson and Amanda Seyfried.
Of course I’m talking about the director’s upcoming film “Devil’s Knot”, based on the infamous “West Memphis Three” triple-murder case that began receiving national attention when Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” first aired on HBO in 1996. Witherspoon has been cast in the key role of Pam Hobbs, the mother of young murder victim Stevie Branch, who in 1993 was found hog-tied in a drainage ditch with two other 8-year-old boys in the hills overlooking the town of West Memphis, Arkansas.
Hobbs initially believed in the guilt of teenage suspects Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin – who were subsequently convicted of the crime – but later was persuaded that the three had been wrongfully accused. Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin have since been set free after taking advantage of a unique plea deal.
According to Deadline, writing team Scott Derrickson and Paul Boardman – who penned the script for the 2005 fact-based hit “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” – wrote the screenplay for the film, and after coming aboard back in August Egoyan has spent a considerable amount of time working on a rewrite with Boardman. The script is based on the 2003 book “Devil’s Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three” by investigative reporter Mara Leveritt, which focuses on the original trial that led to the teenage trio’s conviction (Echols was sentenced to death, while Misskelley and Baldwin were given life terms).
The film is slated to begin production next summer.
Originally set up at Dimension Films, which subsequently put the project into turnaround, “Devil’s Knot” will be financed independently unless producers can get a distributor on board before that point (a distinct possibility now that Witherspoon is involved).
The West Memphis Three case has proven to be popular fodder for Hollywood filmmakers over the years; in addition to Berlinger and Sinofsky’s trio of “Paradise Lost” films, “The Hobbit” director Peter Jackson recently produced another documentary titled “West of Memphis” that focuses on Echols’ attempts to prove his innocence.
This feels like a smart choice for Witherspoon, who received early acclaim for her performances in edgy independents including Matthew Bright’s “Red Riding Hood”-influenced 1996 film “Freeway” and Alexander Payne’s 2000 critical darling “Election”. If “Devil’s Knot” proves successful, it could serve as the engine to jumpstart a career that’s stagnated somewhat since Witherspoon won a Best Actress Oscar for “Walk the Line” in 2006.
The actress will next be seen in “This Means War” opposite Chris Pine Tom Hardy. The film is scheduled to hit theaters on February 17th.
What do you think of Witherspoon’s casting in the film? Is it high time she went back to working on darker independent material, or would you have preferred a non-movie star in the role?