West of Memphis Directed by Amy Berg The detailed story of three brutal, celebrity-attracting murders

Cause Celebrity: Hollywood threw its support behind the West Memphis Three.

If you don’t know much about the West Memphis Three, you sure will by the end of Amy Berg’s nearly two-and-a-half hour documentary, West of Memphis. Unlike the recent The Central Park Five, which also examined a wrongful-incarceration case, West of Memphis doesn’t bring the arrestees front and center to tell their stories, resulting in endless details about their confessions and anecdotes about what they lost (youth, innocence—duh). Instead, the story of three teenagers who in 1994 were convicted of murdering three boys is intricately interwoven from the views of not only the teens (in fact, there’s hardly any input from them) but also legal teams, activists who took up their cause, family and friends, and other suspects. At times the film may delve a little too deeply to allow a new-to-the-topic viewer to keep the facts straight, but it’s nothing if not thorough.

Berg begins at the beginning, with a grizzly recount of the disappearance of three boys in West Memphis, Ark. (One of the searchers is said to have literally stumbled on one of the victims in a local stream, with “one of the little bodies...on his leg.”) The boys were hogtied and cut up, even genitally mutated, leading authorities to believe they were made part of a satanic ritual. Cops arrested Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley Jr., and Jason Baldwin. Though Echols, who bore a resemblance to Jack White, was the primary focus due to his alleged involvement with occultism, a history of mental illness, and prior arrests (Baldwin, too, had been arrested before), it was the confession of Misskelley, who according to one commenter was “borderline mentally retarded,” that became the final nail.

After reports of a botched investigation—including mishandling of the bodies and a lack of DNA evidence—multiple instances of perjury, and two films on the subject (Paradise Lost and Paradise Lost 2), celebrities took up the cause to free the men. Berg features a handful of them prominently, including musicians Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins, screenwriter Fran Walsh, and her partner, director Peter Jackson. Another supporter of the convicted was Lorris Davis, the eventual wife of Echols, who began writing to him while he was in prison. (And unlike what you might think of women who become pen pals with prisoners, Davis comes across as quite stable and intelligent.)

West of Memphis follows the story to its appalling conclusion, which, although it results in the three men being released due to a little-known legal maneuver, does not involve the arrest of the alleged guilty party when, in 2007, new DNA evidence was discovered. The wrongfully accused, meanwhile, come across as rather Zen about the whole experience. When one of the witnesses who gave a false statement recounted her asking Echols why investigators thought he did it, his reply was, “Because I’m weird, I guess.”

Our Readers Say

This review seems a bit lazy, and seems cobbled together from other reviews. There are actually three related documentaries on the subject (Paradise Lost 3) and some of the celebs got involved after the first film. Apparently the reason the one comes across "Zen" like at one point, is because he studied Zen in jail. The reviewer would know this with just a drop of research.
mari - I fully agree with you. And in addition, I think a lot of people that see this film will have already seen the 3 Paradise Lost films and/or already are familiar with the case.
If you look at the details of this case at one of the many sites online you will find a compelling argument that they committed this crime.
The court documents are available and if studied should raise this question. Why the celebrity campaign to free these men? Three young boys sadistically murdered and our elitist media overseers decide to deny them justice. Why the almost unanimous campaign? Misskelley was not borderline retarded. After the arrest his lawyer decided to use incompetence as a defense and the subsequent tests were lower. Prior to the crime he tested higher. No surprise.
This documentary looks amazing and the support from the music community is incredible. The proceeds from the soundtrack will in part benefit the West Memphis Three and artists like Bob Dylan, Natalie Maines, Lucinda Williams, Henry Rollins and Nick Cave (who did the score) contributed music. I found a great video from Eddie Vedder about his contribution to the album, check it out: http://bit.ly/WHVOjd
This story is amazing. The documentary is too. You should check it out. http://bit.ly/WHVOjd
Agreed Dennis. There's a lot to this story that the Paradise Lost films and even this new film have left out. If people knew all the details I'm not so sure they would find them innocent.


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