Sundance 2012: 'West of Memphis' An Infuriating Look at Injustice
by Ethan Anderton
January 30, 2012
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