West of Memphis (2012) Review
Review by NY Times
“West of Memphis,” a work of fierce documentary advocacy directed by Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”), follows the successful crusade to free three men convicted of murder 18 years ago in a sloppy, hysterical rush to justice. Inspiring but infuriating, this impassioned 2 ½-hour film focuses on Damien Echols, the most articulate of the so-called West Memphis Three. Mr. Echols was given the death penalty, and the others — Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. — were sentenced to life in prison for the killings of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Ark., in 1993.
The film is inspiring because it has a semi-happy ending attached to a love story. Heading the campaign was Lorri Davis, a New York landscape architect who became incensed when she heard about the case in 1996 and began a prison correspondence with Mr. Echols that led to their marriage in 1999. Devouring books she supplied, Mr. Echols, who grew up in near poverty, became an erudite, self-educated man and a professed Buddhist. Ms. Davis and Mr. Echols are among the film’s producers. Finally, after a prolonged legal battle, the men were released in 2011.
Review by NJ
No journalist really owns a story. He or she may be the first to uncover a fact, the best at putting together the details – but the news is public property, open to anyone’s interpretation. Still, how can there be a documentary about the West Memphis 3 without Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky? The two filmmakers were the first to extensively cover the case, back with the original “Paradise Lost” in 1996. Their dogged devotion led them to make two more films on the subject, while their approach won them access to all sides. At the very least, “West of Memphis” — filmmaker Amy Berg’s entry into this crime-and-injustice story – feels a little late, and a little redundant to anyone who’s been following the case.
Still, it has its strengths, and the story has its own grisly fascination. The case is, in every way, a horrifying one – first, three murdered young boys, found battered and hog-tied, in a boggy creek. Then, three young teens, arrested and charged with murdering them as part of some dark Satanic rite. Berlinger and Sinofsky were the first to show how shaky the evidence was, how ambitious the prosecution was, and how quickly the community was willing to scapegoat these heavy-metal burnouts. While the two became friendly with the teenagers, though, they mostly told their story from outside.
Review by NY Daily News
Previously chronicled in the trio of “Paradise Lost” documentaries, the case of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr. deserves another look. However, director Amy Berg’s “West of Memphis,” co-produced by Echols and featuring multiple cameos by celebs and especially filmmaker-co-producer Peter Jackson, is anything but objective.
The court system’s lack of objectivity was one of the factors that got Echols the death penalty and Baldwin and Misskelley life sentences for the Arkansas murder of three young boys in 1993. Their case, inflamed by charges of Satanic cult activity, languished until Lorri Davis, a Brooklyn-based landscape architect and numerous other justice-minded citizens (both famous and not) fought to have the case reopened using DNA evidence. The result was Echols — who married Davis while he was in prison — and his co-defendants being released.
Summary: All the best details putted together. A must watch movie.