With the coverage that the ‘West Memphis Three’ and the child murders have already received, it would be easy to think that there was nothing more to be said. You would be wrong. It’s a powerful film to see on its own, and when add it to what has come before, it’s nothing short of gut-wrenching. Review after the jump.
If you’ve seen the Paradise Lost films, followed the case in the media and read Damien Echol’s beautifully written and shocking book Life After Death, then it’s hard not to feel a personal involvement or connection to this case. The films and Echol’s book really do bare it all – the full extent of the incompetencies of the US Justice system and the horrific treatment these three men received is laid out for all to see. It was simply not possible for me to go into this film and judge it without bias – the knowledge of what had played out for all involved was like a heavy weight on my heart.
I also wondered – what more could this film add that we haven’t already learnt through the aforementioned channels? It turns out, quite a lot. This film filled in many gaps and built on what we already knew. It also gives enough background that someone without knowledge of the case could watch it and feel equally as engaged and enraged.
The film opens with grim and confronting images and clips from the time of the murders – we see the family looking, finding & then suffering. A state of sadness is instated. Suddenly three young men are arrested and charged – the case is weak and they declare their innocence; nevertheless, they are jailed for the murder of three young boys. The case is littered with discrepancies the law is crooked, and these young men look set to spend the rest of their lives in Jail. One of the men, Damien Echols (who is said by the prosecutor to be the “leader”) is sentenced to die by lethal injection and is sent to death row.
We then jump forward to around 2005/2006, 12 years after boys were imprisoned. Despite the support the Paradise Lost films had garnered the men, they still remained behind bars, and their supporters appear to have almost exhausted all avenues. Enter Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh – two New Zealand film-makers who reached out to Lorri (Damien’s wife) to offer considerable financial support to help find the evidence which would prove that it wasn’t the three boys. It was this additional injection of cash along with the continued efforts of a large number of supporters (celebrity and otherwise) and the tireless efforts of Lorri over many many years which eventually got results
West of Memphis chronicles the extraordinary and often futile efforts of the men’s family, supporters and backers to analyse the evidence, expose the failings in the police case and effectively build a case which proves that it could not have been the three men.
The shocking and almost unbelievable lies that are exposed during the course of the film are stranger than fiction. The lengths the law enforcement went to, to make sure that these three were convicted was just extraordinary. From planting a knife, to using an unregistered coroner, to forcing someone to make a false confession – this and even more is laid out in the film. You’ll cry, you’ll shake your head in disbelief and you’ll hope like hell that you never encounter such a corrupt justice system.
The film-makers managed to interview some of the key players in the case – most of who still claim they did the right thing and the men are in fact guilty. It almost feels like you’re standing at the end of the wall, and only you can see both sides. On one side is the glaring truth, and on the other are these horrible people and their awful decisions Why can’t the wall be broken? As an audience member, you’ll want to smash it to pieces. The evidence gathered even manages to highlight another person of interest in the case. This person has a lot to answer for, yet they can answer for none of it. 2 years on and there has been no new arrests in relation to the killings. Where is the justice for those boys and their families?
A story so horrific that it has to be true. You can’t make this sort of injustice up. Three young men lost the best years of their lives and suffered greatly. While the deaths of three young boys still goes unanswered. There is only sadness and anger here, and the film does an amazing job of not only showing us that, but also making us feel it with every fibre of our being.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Amy Berg
Writer(s): Amy Berg & McMillin
Starring: Jason Baldwin, Damien Wayne Echols, Jessie Misskelley
Runtime: 147 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: February 14 2013