Witherspoon is adept at grieving in shapeless big-box-store clothes, and it's refreshing that a movie asks us to sympathize with a downwardly mobile born-again. But after a couple wrenching scenes of her facing the loss of her son, Witherspoon's Hobbs gets sidelined, just like most of the characters, whose inner lives Egoyan declines to plumb. She mostly just turns up in court, witnesses the case's unconscionable holes, and occasionally makes a pained face, thinking "Now, wait a second, here . . ."
The small-town details feel production-designed rather than lived in. That goes double for the lives of the men. Curiously, the actors portraying Echols, Baldwin, and Misskelley get too little time to register. Elsewhere, Egoyan musters some of the power he brought to The Sweet Hereafter, another lost-children tale. His crane shots of the search before the missing children are discovered stir a sickening dread, and the moment of grisly discovery is terrifying without feeling exploitative.