Director: Amy Berg
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
For West of Memphis we hear – again – the story of The West Memphis Three and though, still, the case hasn’t been full resolved, this film arrives to tell the latest part of the story, to show that some justice has been restored, to shine a light on the appalling legal/justice system in Arkansas and the desperation of a small community in the wake of a horrific crime. And to finger a new suspect.
But when the case was covered in the earlier Paradise Lost trilogy some actual filmmaking was on show. Here it’s about big-name producers, famous talking heads and a bit of back-patting from Peter Jackson.
Jackson and his partner Fran Walsh put a lot of time and effort and money into the cause to free Damien Echols and Jackson fronts up here on the other side of the camera than is his norm and discusses his moral outrage. And good on him (and her) for the work they did. But this artless documentary they’ve produced relies on the fact that it’s an extraordinary case – that’s what will keep viewers hooked.
We trace around the earlier films, using tiny snippets to contextualise (apparently without asking) and ultimately this aims to tell Echols’ story. Well, in fact Echols is one of the film’s co-producers.
Director Amy Berg does get to tell (almost) the full story – so her single film will become theone that people watch, it tells enough of the tale, gives enough of an overview and so for that it is worthwhile. But there’s no comparison between it and the Paradise Lost series; that was poignant, provocative documentary film making. This is a very long version of the Crime Channel documentaries you part-record with MySky and get back to at some rainy-day stage.
There’s also the film’s soundtrack which features music from some of the film’s interviewees – Eddie Vedder, Natalie Mains of the Dixie Chicks (now solo artist) and Henry Rollins. Well, they believe in the cause and good for them. They’ve worked hard. I guess.
West of Memphis is a decent recap of a case that is now some 20 years old. And the concern at this point is that there could well be a fifth movie. I doubt I could stick it out to sit through that.