Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Lorri Davis, wife of the imprisoned Damien Echols, uncrates a relief map of the crime scene where three little boys were found dead in 1993, in a scene from the documentary "West of Memphis." (photo by Olivia Fougeirol | Sony Pictures Classics)
Movie review: ‘West of Memphis’ a chilling look at injustice
Review » Murder, panic and activism mix in powerful doc.
First Published Mar 07 2013 02:50 pm • Last Updated Mar 08 2013 09:59 pm

Amy Berg’s "West of Memphis" is not the first documentary to look into the 1993 deaths of three little boys in West Memphis, Ark. But it may be the definitive look at a case that encompasses in chilling particulars issues of murder, injustice, activism and the imperfections in the American justice system.

This much is true: On May 6, 1993, the bodies of three eight-year-old boys — Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers — were found in a drainage ditch in West Memphis, Ark. They were naked and hogtied, and at least one of them had their genitals removed. From there, as Berg details with laser-like precision, everything else is in dispute.

At a glance

HHHhj

‘West of Memphis’

A real-life case of murder and injustice, which plays like a crackerjack thriller.

Where » Broadway Centre Cinemas

When » Opens Friday, March 8.

Rating » R for disturbing violent content and some language.

Running time » 147 minutes.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

When the case was first investigated and tried, police and prosecutors believed the murders were a ritual killing, possibly with satanic or cult motives. The police arrested three teens: Jessie Misskelley, Charles Jason Baldwin and Damien Wayne Echols. Using a taped confession from Misskelley (whose IQ was reported at a lowly 72) and forensic analysis by pathologist Frank Peretti, prosecutors won murder convictions against all three — with Nichols receiving a death sentence. Appeals were denied, and there it might have rested.

But the way sheriffs and prosecutors handled the case raised a sea of questions — questions that were first raised to a national audience by Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky’s 1996 documentary "Paradise Lost" (which became the first of a trilogy). The case also spawned an international protest effort, with such celebrities as Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam) and Natalie Maines (of The Dixie Chicks) speaking up for the "West Memphis 3."

Also getting involved were Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, the husband-and-wife filmmaking team behind "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Not only did they produce "West of Memphis," but they bankrolled private detectives and a retired FBI profiler, John Douglas, to pore over the case files with twin goals: Proving the innocence of the three men behind bars, and figure out who really committed the crimes.

Berg ("Deliver Us From Evil") interviews a host of people — including Echols from behind bars, as well as victims’ relatives, the judge on the original case, investigators and lawyers, even Vedder and Jackson — intercut with trial footage to paint a full portrait of the case. She shows the evidence, and the dubious conclusions prosecutors reached as they tried Misskelley, Baldwin and Echols. She chronicles the activism that kept interest alive for decades. And, in some chilling footage, she even points a finger at a suspect that the police should have considered but didn’t.

"West of Memphis" ultimately raises more questions than it answers — as anything short of convicting the real killer would. But it tells a compelling story, told with the investigative force of good journalism and the dramatic pacing of a first-rate thriller. It’s a gut-punching reminder that justice isn’t always as swift or as sure as we would like.

movies@sltrib.com

Twitter: @moviecricket

Facebook: www.facebook.com/seanpmeans


story continues below
story continues below



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.