Friday, February 07, 2014

West of Memphis

Directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Berg and Billy McMillin, West of Memphis is a documentary about the West Memphis Three events in which three teenagers were accused of killing three boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. Like the Paradise Lost documentary trilogy from Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, the documentary explore the events of the murders as well as get the story of Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley just after they were released. The result is an intriguing yet mesmerizing documentary from Amy J. Berg.

The film explores the case of the murders of West Memphis where three little boys were killed in 1993 as Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were accused of those murders. The film’s first half explores the case itself as well as the idea that corruption was involved as well as negligence from the prosecution over how the case got handled where they brought in people who claimed to be experts. Even as witnesses from the original case would reveal that they did lie in court as one of them was a juvenile delinquent who claimed that Jason Baldwin said things during his prison time as he would later reveal that he did lie in court.

Much of that film’s first half features interviews by not just lawyers and experts who were involved in the case as well as those who had interest in the case. The film also features interviews from people like Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, and filmmaker Peter Jackson, the last of which is one of the film’s executive producers, as they all talked about the case in general while Jackson helped funded so that people can look into the evidence and make their own judgment whether or not the three men were innocent. Especially as it would lead to this grassroots movement to not only get those three men freed but also to force the Arkansas justice system to re-evaluate the case and look into things they overlooked.

Though director Amy J. Berg doesn’t do anything new that had been explored in the Paradise Lost trilogy, she is able to keep things engaging about not just holes in the original case but also reveal more into what caused the wound marks into the bodies of those boys. One thing she was able to do in the film was get the chance to interview Pam Hobbs as well as her estranged daughter Amanda which relates to the questions about whether or not Pam’s ex-husband Terry might’ve been the killer as the film’s second half is about Hobbs himself. Especially where it plays into what he might’ve been doing that day as well as his past and relationship to his stepson Stevie Branch whom he possibly did kill. Even as friends of Terry Hobbs’ nephew each give an interview in early 2012 before the film’s release where they reveal that Hobbs probably did kill those kids as it’s known as the Hobbs family secret.

With the help of cinematographers Maryse Alberti and Ronan Killeenand sound editors Brent Burge and Chris Ward, Berg is able to create a film that manages to bring in some ideas of not just the location of West Memphis and its atmosphere but also a world that is in the middle of America as it’s not really connected to major cities in that country. Editor/co-writer Billy McMillin does great work in the use of archive footage as well as news reports to help present the story as well as getting footage from the Paradise Lost films. The film’s score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis is very somber in its ambient yet folk-based sound as the music also includes songs performed by Eddie Vedder.

West of Memphis is a remarkable documentary from Amy J. Berg and co-producer Peter Jackson. While the eventual resolution of the case wasn’t satisfactory to some, it does showcase the sense of injustice that was prevalent on the case as the documentary does manage to raise more question in how things were handled back then. The documentary also serves as a fitting companion piece to the Paradise Lost trilogy in the way it explores the same case as well as different spectrums over what had happened. In the end, West of Memphis is a superb film from Amy J. Berg.

Related: Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills - Paradise Lost 2: Revelations - Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory - Phoenix Rising

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