Corruption, self-interest and rampant bigotry are so clearly portrayed in this riveting documentary that if it doesn't make you angry, maybe there's something wrong with you. As filmmaker Amy Berg explores a shocking case from Arkansas, the intractability of the American legal system is highlighted with a lucid and engaging account of the facts. And it's such a skilfully shot and edited film that it leaves us in no doubt about the truth.
At the centre is a multiple murder in May 1993, which the police claimed was the result of a satanic ritual. So they arrested three goth teens whose counter-culture lifestyle made them seem like the logical suspects. After the trial, Echols was sentenced to death, while Baldwin and Misskelley received life sentences. But observers noticed a string of anomalies in the case: the three 8-year-old victims were not acually killed in an occultic way, and there was plenty of proof that the three teen convicts were innocent. For nearly 20 years the cause of the "West Memphis Three" was taken up by lawyers and celebrities around the world. But the Arkansas court has refused to examine new DNA evidence and would only let the three now-men out of prison if they acknowledged their guilt.
Filmmaker Berg has a huge archive of material at her disposal, including footage from the original police investigation, press coverage, video of the trials and extensive interviews with everyone involved. Assembled together this gives us a remarkable big picture of the chain of events, not only letting us see that these three convicted murderers are innocent but hinting at who the real killer might be. The fact that the court still won't hear the facts is so mind-boggling that we begin to worry if the system in West Memphis is capable of justice at all. Especially when police and prosecutors so obviously twist the evidence away from the facts.
Continue reading: West Of Memphis Review
In 1993, three 8 year old boys from West Memphis who had been previously reported missing were found dead and mutilated in a creek near to where they were last seen. The main murder suspects and subsequent alleged perpetrators were Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin who were sentenced to life imprisonment and Damien Echols who was sentenced to death by lethal injection after only 11 hours despite inconsistent and distorted evidence and obvious police coercion. Many stood up against this injustice and believed the teenage boys to be innocent and eventually, they were given a new trial where they were released on a Suspended Sentence for 10 years after each serving over 18 years in prison.
'West of Memphis' details the extent of the injustices these men suffered in shocking documentary form produced by Damien Echols himself only a year out of prison, with direction from Amy Berg ('Deliver Us from Evil') who also co-wrote the movie with Billy McMillin ('Project Kashmir'). It highlights the failures of the justice system at the time and the ignorance and dismissal of much important evidence by the police who were determined to have an arrest as soon as possible for those tragic murders. It is set for release to on December 21st 2012.
Director: Amy Berg
Continue: West Of Memphis Trailer
Famous documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky obtain amazing access to all sides of the case throughout the trials, getting up close and personal with the accused, their families, the local law enforcement, the parents of the victims, and pretty much everyone else in the small Arkansas town -- which almost unilaterally has judged them guilty as hell.
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There's already an Oscars buzz surrounding this movie.