SUNDANCE 2012

Sundance 2012: 'West of Memphis' An Infuriating Look at Injustice

by
January 30, 2012

West of Memphis

While HBO has followed the case of The West Memphis 3 throughout three different documentary films, it's director Amy Berg (Deliver Us from Evil) and producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh who have delivered the definitive chronicle of a tragic misstep in our country's justice system. West of Memphis starts at the very beginning with the murders of Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas and the impending convictions and trials of accused killers (then just young boys) Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. But they aren't guilty in the least.

With unprecedented access to judges, jurors and more, this films paints the most complete picture of the complete disorganization, discombobulation and absolute ignorance in dealing with this murder case. From missing key interrogation opportunities to some pretty shady police work, West of Memphis will fill you with rage as the details of this case unfold to not only prove Echols, Baldwin and Misskelly innocent, but surprise audiences by revealing the guilt of the real killer who was hiding in plain sight the entire time. I can't even count how many times I laughed out of disbelief, sighed out of exasperation or just stared open-mouthed at the garbage being thrown around by those involved in this case who held the fate of these three boys in their hands

With a running time of two and a half hours, this is definitely a long, comprehensive documentary, but the time flies as you find yourself caught up in the legal missteps and sheer injustice on display. In addition, the most intriguing fact about the documentary is the revelation of three witnesses, including two interviews shot just one week before the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, that prove without a shadow of a doubt that these three boys are innocent and have been the victim of a broken justice system and misplaced priorities from several elected officials and irresponsible law enforcement.

Even more unique is to this presentation of the case is that producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh were personally involved in keeping the investigation going with their own money, not to mention Ms. Walsh staying on top of the most key information and even doing some investigating of her own all the way from New Zealand. Other names like Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins show just how big the support for these wrongly imprisoned boys actually was, and the small victories in the film are felt deep down in your heart as if these boys were members of your family or closest friends.

West of Memphis is undoubtedly the film that will stand the test of time as the conclusive retelling of one of the most gross errors in the United States court system and an ugly watermark in the history of Arkansas' judicial work. Painting a picture with all the facts, emotion and even revelations over 17 years later, Amy Berg has not only made a quality film, but she will open the eyes of those who blindly follow our justice system and implicitly trust our officials to do the right thing. It's sad that it took this long for the mistakes of the past to come forward, but the discomfort felt is well worth the enlightenment and well overdue victory.

Ethan's Sundance Rating: 9 out of 10

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  • Alex Lee Williams
    This has to be the most excellently written review I have seen in a LONG time. I have followed the West memphis 3 story for years, and have always not respected documentaries that play one way against the other. Paradise Lost were great films. Because the proof was never official, people still badgered Echols Baldwin and Miskelley for committing the crimes. Even through the support of WM3 supporters, but now that they are freed, pardoned and are proven innocent, its incredible to me that there is a doc out there that really sticks it to the flawed system. And this review sums it up for me, as I have not seen the flick yet, it makes me NEED to see it. 5 of 5 on the review sir.
  • http://www.facebook.com/findingtess Andrea Jones Torres
    isn't that hearsay though? the nephew of hobbs saying that he told them (michael and some of his friends) that he commited the murders? i just finished watching the 10 hour deposition of Hobbs. he is one scary mother fucker. I cannot believe that he hasn't been hauled in, but then again, I guess I can believe it.
    • Doctor_s
      Aren't you WM3 cheerleaders the least bit curious about all the evidence there is that implicates the three? Shouldn't the gruesome murders of three young boys compel you to make sure you've got all the facts to be certain you are not supporting their killers? If you are seriously interested in the facts of the case, the documentaries is the last place you should look.
      • marleen
        What evidence? A bs confession and a couple of fibers? You call that evidence? What about Terry Hobbs and Jacoby's DNA at the scene of the murders? What about the lie after lie after lie that Terry Hobbs has told? What about that? Check your facts.
  • Teacherkid
    Your review makes me want to see this even more, any word on possible distributers yet?
  • http://www.facebook.com/JaiysonM Jason McGuire
    this sounds great. if ya'll wanna see another excellent yet infuriating doc on failing justice systems (this time Canada's), watch "Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father." So gut wrenching but enlightening nonetheless. 
  • http://www.facebook.com/JaiysonM Jason McGuire
    its on netflix instant streaming
  • Anonymous
    This was a powerful film and having Damien and Jason at the Sundance Q&A made it even better. That said, I think that PARADISE LOST 3, which I saw a few weeks before at the Palm Springs film festival, was a better film.
  • http://pajamaproductivity.com Annie Sisk
    Jason McGuire: it's not streaming on Netflix. There's an entry for it in the database there but it's not available for viewing yet. Too bad - I'm looking forward to seeing it very much.
    • http://www.firstshowing.net/ Ethan Anderton
      Actually I think Jason is talking about Dear Zachary being available on Netflix Instant (which it is). But West of Memphis doesn't yet have distribution, so we're not sure when you'll be able to see it yet.
      • http://pajamaproductivity.com Annie Sisk
        Gotcha - I hadn't seen Jason's first comment. Yes, I know we're waiting for news of a distribution deal -- can't happen too soon.
  • stephenc
    I caught the latest documentary on HBO not too long ago.  Somehow I managed to miss the whole story for the last couple of decades.  The HBO documentary makes a compelling emotional case that the WM3 didn't murder those three little boys.  I got sucked in, but I've since learned enough about the story to treat the claim that the WM3 "aren't guilty in the least" with a great deal of skepticism.  It'll be interesting to watch 'West of Memphis' with a bit more knowledge of the events.  Will the boogey man be Byers once again?  I'm not sure why he was the arch villian in the second HBO documentary, nor am I sure why he became a non-suspect in part 3.  I suppose it'll be Hobbs as in the 3rd HBO documentary.  After all, Hobbs knew one of the victims, he's a dumbass redneck, and  'startling new evidence' came to light 18 years after the crime.  If that doesn't make him a more likely suspect than someone who confessed on multiple occasions and even under the supervision and against the advise his own counsel, then I don't know what does....  
    • Hellokit99
      Mark Byers is not only no longer a suspect, he is one of the WM3's most vocal and valued supporters.  The results of the DNA testing which identified Hobbs' DNA as present in the knot of a ligature which tied up one of the victims (importantly, NOT Hobbs' stepson) led Mark to realize that Hobbs was, indeed, the only logical suspect that can be tied to the victims through real physical evidence. Mark is a no-BS man who puts  his emotions out there for the world to see, and when PL2 was filmed, his behavior allowed many (but not by any means all) supporters to view him as the most likely suspect.  Remember, at this time, there was NO physical evidence pointing toward him or any other suspect.  Behaviors were all there was to go on - flimsy evidence, to be sure, but  still stronger than the "evidence" that the state of Arkansas used to secure life sentences for Jason and Jessie and a death sentence for Damien.  Unlike the WMPD and the state of Arkansas, which started with their handpicked suspects and fashioned "evidence" around them to make a case, Mark, and the great majority of us who support the WM3, started with the new evidence available and determined the logical suspect from that information.    It takes courage to admit that one was previously mistaken and openmindedness to choose to form new opinions;  this is much more difficult, but more honorable, than clinging to old misguided views in order to preserve one's ego.  Mark is greatly respected in the WM3 support community;  we are lucky to have him on our side.
      • stephenc
        I was being a bit sardonic in noting that Byers went from suspect in PL2 to non-suspect in PL3.  I watched PL3 before PL2 and my first impression of Byers was as you describe.  I was naturally quite surprised to see the extent to which he was villified in PL2 because of his odd behavior, an ironic basis for suspicion given the nature of the movie. But the movies are plainly advocacy journalism, and I don't fault them for being something they're not.

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