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'West of Memphis' adds to the sad saga of murder and misplaced justice

Posted 2:52pm on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013

R (disturbing violent content, strong language); 147 min.

Much has already been said about the West Memphis Three. The story of the young Arkansas men -- Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin -- who were jailed in the 1993 murder of three young boys in what was claimed to be a satanic ritual became a cause célèbre as evidence mounted that the accused were the victims of a small-town witch hunt. They were released in 2011.

Still, Amy Berg's thorough and exhaustive documentary, West of Memphis, manages to put it all together in a compelling way. Even for those who've seen Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky's "Paradise Lost" trilogy on the case and devoured every word in the media, West of Memphis is still intriguing, if a bit long.

Berg starts the film with the case against the three. At first, it seems as if they had to have done it. They were all loners and easily ostracized types. One of them, Misskelley, even confessed.

Yet the combination of sloppy police work, ambitious prosecutors, fear-mongering and a community's need to place blame for the loss of three young lives meant that the West Memphis Three apparently received the roughest brand of justice. Berg goes into meticulous detail, puncturing holes in the prosecutor's supposedly airtight case.

Make no mistake, Berg is not impartial. Echols and his wife, Lorri Davis, who met her husband when she began corresponding with him in prison after she saw the first "Paradise Lost" film, co-produced West of Memphis. Also producing are longtime WM3 activist and "Lord of the Rings" series director Peter Jackson and his partner, Fran Walsh. But it's this sense of a crusade that gives West of Memphis its power. Still, despite the satisfaction that comes from the WM3's release, there's also a sense of sadness and unfinished business. Because, if this film is right, three men had their lives needlessly shattered and the townspeople of West Memphis may still have a killer in their midst.

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-- Cary Darling

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