Film Review: ‘West of Memphis’

Freed West Memphis Three member Damien Echols with his wife Lorri Davis in the documentary "West of Memphis," out today. CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics
Freed West Memphis Three member Damien Echols with his wife Lorri Davis in the documentary “West of Memphis”
CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

‘West of Memphis’
Director: Amy Berg
Genre: Documentary
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

Documentarians Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky did the grunt work on the case of the West Memphis Three, the trio of Arkansas metalhead teens wrongly convicted of and imprisoned for murdering three young boys. Their cameras were there soon after the arrest, back when the notion of the kids’ innocence wasn’t clear even to them. And they stuck with it: after 1996’s “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills” — even as they filmed Metallica and Berlinger made the hated sequel to “The Blair Witch Project” — they twice revisited the case, even if the results both times were little more than glorified DVD supplementary features.

However serendipitous Berling and Sinofsky’s timing was initially, it’s wasn’t so hot at the end: “Paradise Lost: Purgatory,” the third film, was about to premiere when their subjects were suddenly released, necessitating a quickly-filmed coda to actually show the happy ending. This also somewhat justifies the existence of the new “West of Memphis,” which forgoes the cinema verité style of Berlinger and Sinofsky for a purely expository approach, summarizing the three films but now with the knowledge that the activism proved successful. If you don’t have seven hours to take in the original films, this supposedly will do.

That’s a shame, as the first film, at least, is a masterpiece, whereas this is a paraphrase, the filmic equivalent of a Wikipedia page. Director Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) does a fine job gutting the story down to a still epic 2 ½ hours, with a chunk of the running time dedicated to Peter Jackson. That’s fine: along with his wife/collaborator Fran Walsh, he donated quite a lot of his Tolkien money to the Memphis Three’s cause, and a soapbox (although really just the ability to spout basic exposition) is the smallest recompense for his generosity.

There is one fresh aspect, and that’s this: its newly freed subjects, now well into their 30s, get to reflect on losing the prime of their lives due to the mistakes of others. They’re not yet ready to delve into this, understandably distracted by the fresh lack of prison walls. Needless to say, for anyone who’s followed this case, the victory is deeply moving, if unavoidably pyrrhic: the WM3 did spend nearly 20 years in jail. There’s a chance for another fascinating film on the subject, filmed years in the future, one where the West Memphis Three come to grips with a community and a society that recklessly screwed up their lives. And when that film happens, it will likely be made by Berlinger and Sinofsky, not Berg.


US military tried, but failed to rescue journalist…

The U.S. military earlier this year tried to rescue journalist James Foley and other American hostages held in Syria ,but failed to find the captives.


Fate of captured beluga whales in hands of…

A Georgia aquarium went to court on Wednesday seeking federal permission to bring 18 captured beluga whales to the United States from Russia.


After Eric Garner death, religious leaders meet to…

Interfaith leaders convened with city officials to discuss what the community can do to help dial down heightened tensions after Eric Garner's death.


'Suspicious' Hamilton Heights fire caused by power strip:…

An extension cord overload caused the deadly fire in Hamilton Heights late Monday that killed a 15-year-old girl and injured at least 12 others.


Review: 'Sin City: A Dame to Kill For'…

The belated sequel "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" makes one question whether the first one may have been not so hot. Still, Eva Green vamping!


'So You Think You Can Dance' recap: Season…

And then there were six. It was a big night on stage as the Top 6 got to dance with each other, All-star partners and perform a solo routine.

Going Out

5 things to do in NYC this weekend…

FILM Lebowski Fest Aug. 22-23, 8 p.m. Various locations, Manhattan $20-$30, The Dude abides — for 48 hours to celebrate the 1998 Coen brothers classic.…


'Doctor Who' personality profile: the 4 Doctors

When the time comes for a new Doctor, there's always some anxiety over the big question: Who will he be? The series owes its longevity…


Giants expected to work Corey Washington into first-team…

The day of reckoning for the Giants' fringe players will fall upon them Friday night against the Jets.


Jalen Saunders still unsure what caused car accident…

Jets rookie wide receiver Jalen Saunders spoke to the media Wednesday for the first time since his car accident, but he didn't say a whole lot.


2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL defense (DEF)


2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL…

2014 Fantasy Football: Rankings, list of top NFL quarterbacks (QB)


Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…


Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…


Metabolic syndrome could have a sugar link

Scientists in St. Louis may have found another culprit in metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.  Uric acid is…


Another way stress hurts your unborn baby

Mothers know to try staying calm during pregnancy, as stress has been linked to behavioral and developmental problems for their babies. But now, a new…