A gross miscarriage of justice is rectified in West of Memphis. This absorbing documentary will drain you with its exactitude but never leave you feeling empty. WOM will be of interest to anyone who likes comprehensive docs as well as supporters of the West Memphis Three. Additionally the film should become a textbook example for law students wanting to understand the legal process as it related to life sentences, death sentences, and Alford Pleas.
As helmed by Amy Berg WOM gives the audience an exhaustive overview of the case from the origin when three youths – Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols, and Jessie Misskelley Jr. – are arrested for the bizarre murders of three even younger boys. Producers include Echols, his wife Lorri Davis (they were married while he was still in prison in 1999) and Peter Jackson. Jackson himself was fundamental in raising money for multiple DNA tests that eventually led to a reversal of the evidence. Echols was given a death sentence while the other two received life terms. All told they spent overt 18 years in prison after the original trial.
A series of three docs, Paradise Lost et al. made by Joseph Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are covered but more importantly WOM diverts from those well-made films by introducing new evidence such as how turtles probably caused the some of the wounds found on the victims. Additionally a new prime suspect, one of the victim’s relatives, is revealed through detailed facts and old fashioned sleuthing.
When West of Memphis first played at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival the three incarcerated men has literally been released just over a month previously. Also, as if to say this is a case that’s not going away a narrative version of these events is being made by director Atom Egoyan with a large cast including Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon playing various participants.
Obviously West of Memphis covers the release of the men after nearly 20 years in prison. To witness their reaction to things like hotel room service and just freedom in general leaves the viewer with an unforgettable sense of hope and inspiration. Few who’ve ever heard of this case are likely to forget about it, likewise nobody who watches West of Memphis will be able to forget about the sense of devotion demonstrated by the people who righted the wrong.
– Michael Bergeron