West of Memphis searches for justice

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A documentary by Amy Berg. Rated 14A.

With unique access to Damien Echols, the seeming mastermind of a still-shocking 1993 crime, filmmaker Amy Berg builds on the portrayals seen in the Paradise Lost trilogy made by docmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, benefiting from all that has gone before plus a dramatic conclusion that some followers may have missed. West of Memphis also does what it accuses the others of doing: finding a different suspect and assuring us of his guilt.

The new film’s most fascinating subtext is its time-capsule aspect, with dominant thought patterns (and similarly odious hairstyles) more apparent from this distance. Although it’s true that the naked, mutilated bodies of three eight-year-old boys were dragged out of a wooded creek in the Robin Hood Hills, virtually everything that followed was fabricated out of hysterically knitted whole cloth.

In fact, there was never any evidence tying Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley to the victims or the scene. But these mildly goth types, assumed to be Satan worshippers, were widely seen as weird in the impoverished town of West Memphis, Arkansas. So local police didn’t hesitate to put the screws on the trio’s weak link, the mentally challenged Misskelley. Actually, at a wrestling match in another town on the evening of the killings, he eventually delivered a rambling, contradictory confession that was surely led by his interrogators, as heard on tape here.

Echols was sentenced to death, with the others given life in prison, and the gross absurdities of the case eventually caught the attention of celebrities, including Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp, and Ringmaster Peter Jackson, who essentially funded a new investigation that led to the making of this film. To say more would spoil the intrigue and the excitement of what happened to the case in this decade.

Watch the trailer for West of Memphis.
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