WEST OF MEMPHIS
Intriguing Murder Case
Release Date: December 25, 2012
Runtime: 135 minutes
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics/Sony
Director: Amy Berg
Executive Producer: Ken Kamins
Producer: Amy Berg, Fran Walsh, Peter
Jackson, Damien Echols, Lorri
Writer: Amy Berg, Billy McMillin
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The documentary uses extensive courtroom footage and many interviews with witnesses and experts. Filmmaker Peter Jackson (of LORD OF THE RINGS fame) helps fund the later defense of the accused killers and the documentary. The filmmakers also interview Peter as he explains why he thinks the men are innocent and deserve another trial. The prosecutors originally argued that some superficial wounds on the victims were part of a Satanic ritual. However, other forensic experts brought into the case by Jackson and his team convince the viewer that the wounds are animal bites. The bodies were dumped in a marshy stream in the woods known for aquatic turtles, including snapping turtles.
WEST OF MEMPHIS is especially compelling in its presentation of new forensic and DNA evidence. It successfully points a finger at one of the murdered boys’ stepfather, whose DNA was found at the crime scene. The stepfather uses a friend for an alibi, but the friend tells a different story. Even so, the stepfather has filed at least one letter with his stepson’s biological father and two parents of one of the other boys stating their belief that the three original defendants are guilty. The mother and the stepfather of one of the other boys disagree, however. They think the other stepfather probably did the crime.
In 2011, after years of appeals and red tape, the three convicted suspects were released on a bizarre plea agreement that allowed them to plead guilty but still maintain their innocence. The documentary argues that Arkansas officials are unwilling to overturn the original convictions, set a new trial, or investigate any “new” evidence or allegations.
WEST OF MEMPHIS makes compelling arguments for its viewpoint. However, it’s very long and sometimes slow. Also, some of the footage lets the three convicted suspects and their supporters talk at length emotionally about the things they’ve gone through. Ideally, the movie should have eschewed emotional appeals by all sides in its investigation. That said, it’s hard to eliminate all emotion from such a tragic case, whatever the truth turns out to be about who’s guilty or not guilty. It must be said, however, that the new suspect in the case, the stepfather, is not very convincing.
Though the evidence in this heinous crime can be rather complex, WEST OF MEMPHIS does a good job making its case. It doesn’t cover everything, however, so its viewpoint could still be totally wrong, or at least strongly skewed. Also, there’s plenty of strong foul language, some gruesome images, and references to the lewd nature of some of the alleged evidence. So, extreme caution is warranted for WEST OF MEMPHIS.
The evidence in this crime is rather complex. Even so, WEST OF MEMPHIS does a good job making its case. It doesn’t cover everything, so its viewpoint could still be wrong. Also, there’s plenty of strong foul language, gruesome images, and references to the lewd nature of some of the evidence. So, extreme caution is warranted for WEST OF MEMPHIS.