Movie review: West of Memphis

From the March 14, 2013 edition

The story of the West Memphis Three is one of injustice and the power of documentary filmmaking.

Like many, I was introduced to the case of three teenage boys convicted of three brutal child slayings in the 1996 HBO documentary “Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills” and two sequels. Filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky are responsible for the attention this case has received and the outrage at the scant evidence and Satanic overtones that lead to the convictions.

But “West of Memphis” is not their film.

You may ask, why another West Memphis Three documentary? Director Amy Berg (“Deliver Us From Evil”) doesn’t come at the case from a significantly different perspective. She doesn’t have the benefit of the years of access Berlinger and Sinofsky did, and the film focuses a bit too much on the involvement of celebrities like Eddie Vedder and director Peter Jackson (who co-produced “West of Memphis”).

But the film has the benefit of hindsight. If you managed to not follow this case, I won’t spoil the outcome — a bittersweet result that doesn’t feel much like justice — but “West of Memphis” manages to summarize the entire saga in the length of one of the “Paradise Lost” films.

The Berlinger/Sinofsky films remain my favorite telling of this tale, but this story is so powerful that “West of Memphis” is a must-see. It’s the highlight of Columbus Documentary week at the Gateway.