"West of Memphis": A Twenty-Year Ordeal

An account of justice delayed, denied, and thoroughly disfigured, Amy Berg's documentary re-investigates the increasingly unwieldy story of the West Memphis Three, that trio of misfit Arkansas teenagers wrongly convicted of murdering three little boys in 1993. We see again how their case became what one participant calls "the first crowd-sourced criminal investigation in history," with celebrity support from the likes of Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins (not to mention San Francisco appellate specialist attorney Dennis Riordan), plus Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson in loyal service to Berg as both crusaders and producers. Acknowledging multiple previous documentaries about the same case, Berg's film mounts its own prosecution, first sifting through all the media hysteria, police misconduct, and political maneuvering that put the wrong people away for 18 years, then pointing an angry finger at one victim's stepfather and calling him the killer. It's compelling evidence, but also deeply unsettling after so thorough a condemnation of false accusations. Berg also records the impact of her own advocacy here, one of the results of which is former death-row languisher Damien Echols, once the trio's alleged ringleader, becoming one of West of Memphis' producers. Giving off the queasy feeling that we'll be awash in bogus-justice documentaries for years to come, this film is an endurance test, but as another participant says, so is the ordeal it depicts.

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