A protracted, hard-hitting deeply informative but not so all-inclusive documentary of a subject recounted in the Paradise Lost series even has a crisp, illuminating production in a rallying cry for justice.
Amy Berg's West of Memphis puts the ghastly murders of a trio of 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in May of 1993 into perspective that may arouse the interest of cineastes who were drawn to other recent outstanding examples of the genre like The Central Park Five.
Arkansas police concluded at the time that the deaths were part of a demonic exercise in the woods and three teen dissidents were found guilty on murder charges. Damien Echols being sentenced to death, while Jason Baldwin and the mildly retarded Jessie Misskelley getting life imprisonment. Not long afterward the case began to have its many detractors, noting how these suspects weren't really responsible for what wasn't really or couldn't have been supernatural in origin.
What's fascinating is how Berg handles its complexity and logistics drawing from a plethora of stock (police, media, trial) footage with plenty of talking heads of those connected with canny journalistic flair. Over 18 years the effrontery around the Arkansas legal system reigned over indefatigable attorneys lobbying for new evidence to reopen the case. A bizarre guilty plea in August 2011 is where the story leads as the filmmaking has material to shed light on its ideas about an at-large culprit (related to one of the innocents and apparently having a violent past).
There's no denying of the homicidal luridness on screen as it rivetingly chronologically compiles the facts that will make many folks blood boil through improper inference as well as inferior forensic and circumstantial evidence. A humiliation linked with unwavering moral obstinacy underlines an alarming inhumanity and roughhousing that compelled luminaries like Henry Rollins, Peter Jackson, and Eddie Vedder to rousing appear in clips on behalf of the three and their families.
Though some may find the overall look at faulty self-preservation and corruption to be a bit too padded, West of Memphis is carefully thorough, extremely well-crafted celluloid that goes beyond the interviews and trials that has the inexhaustible verve and veracity to move its champions to action.