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Reese Witherspoon in Los Angeles, Dec. 13, 2010.

Jason Merritt

Toronto director Atom Egoyan has scored a casting coup, landing Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon in the leading role in his upcoming film Devil's Knot, based on the brutal Arkansas slayings of three eight-year-old boys.

Slated to begin filming in the southern States this summer, Egoyan ( Sweet Hereafter) says the 35-year-old actress, who won her Academy Award for Walk The Line, is "perfect" for the emotionally wrought role given her skill set and the fact that her New Orleans roots mean "she knows that culture very well."

"It's an emotionally loaded journey she goes through, but I met with Reese, and we talked at length about the project, and she's eager to take on the challenge," Egoyan said Friday.

Story continues below advertisement

Egoyan's feature film, based on Mara Leveritt's non-fiction book, Devil's Knot: The True Story of the West Memphis Three, is the dramatic re-telling of the 1993 murders of three Boy Scouts which led to the conviction of three men Jessie Misskelley Jr., Damien Echols, and Jason Baldwin – all of whom were found innocent and released from jail, after 18 years, last August.

Egoyan says he's also leaning heavily on Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's two HBO documentaries, Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations "which have covered the (legal battle) so well."

In the $20-million film, Witherspoon will play Pam Hobbs, the mother of one of the murder victims. At first convinced of the trio's guilt, she eventually begins to doubt their culpability.

"The movie roots us emotionally to what happened in the town," says Egoyan. "I think what's interesting is the consequences of this event on an entire community. It's obviously the story of how justice was completely mishandled, which led to a lot happening in those homes and families that was as traumatizing."

Over the course of the last 18 years, celebrities including Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder, and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson (who chipped in for the men's defense expenses) have championed their cause.

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