West Of Memphis (Import DVD)
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You'd think that after the exhaustive Paradise Lost trilogy of documentaries by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky (in 1996, 2000, and 2011) about the so-called West Memphis Three child murders that the subject would be pretty well accounted for. That is certainly true, but West of Memphis is in no way superfluous or redundant in its passionate examination of what is nearly impossible not to call a grave miscarriage of justice. For anyone who has seen the Paradise Lost films, the details of the case against Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley are well known. Ever since their trial, conviction, and life sentences (with a death sentence for Echols) as teenagers for allegedly murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993, the men have been regarded as scapegoats by thousands of people around the world as well as those intimately involved in the case. Though the state of Arkansas never budged on its obstinate stance, the three were released in a plea deal after 17 years when pushes for a possible new trial pointed to further rancor and the probability of new evidence that would expose a massive web of injustice. Director Amy Berg interviews many of the same characters that Sinofsky and Berlinger did, but her perspective is focused on efforts to free the men with a plethora of allegations infinitely more believable than that which the state used to ramrod them into guilt. Her star witness in this film is Lorri Davis, the woman Echols befriended by mail, then married in prison in 1999. Her efforts on the outside led to the ongoing campaign to free the West Memphis Three as well as to new investigations into who actually committed the crime. (Berg and Echols are coproducers, along with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh of Lord of the Rings fame, who were massive financial and moral supporters of the cause since its beginning.) There is, of course, some duplication of material and it feels a little long, but West of Memphis is scrupulously crafted in both its visual style as well as its attention to the minutiae of facts--forensic and otherwise--that overwhelmingly point the finger of guilt at the stepfather of one of the victims. Digging deep, adding moral and emotional weight, and doling out information gradually to truly damning effect, West of Memphis is completely absorbing and extraordinarily moving. It also seems to be not nearly the end of the story in asking so many questions about whether genuine justice will ever be served. --Ted Fry
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