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West of Memphis

West of Memphis is a compelling documentary—surprisingly so at a butt-numbing 147 minutes—that unwittingly provokes serious ethical questions. Most people know the West Memphis Three story: In 1994, three teens were convicted of the murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Ark., due in part to accusations that they were Satanists. Henry Rollins and Eddie Vedder got involved at some point, and the men were released—but not exonerated—in 2011. Where West of Memphis is an unmitigated success is as a thorough history of the case and the myriad fuckups and deliberate deceptions of those investigating and prosecuting it. While bearing in mind that it’s produced by the most prominent member of the WM3, Damien Echols, and filmmaker Peter Jackson, it is a comprehensive and fascinating retelling of how things unfolded—from their perspective, at least. Jackson and his team employed independent experts and investigators to prove the three’s innocence and expose how poorly the original trials had been conducted. But they swim into murkier waters by portraying Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the murdered boys, as the real killer. Though they form a believable case, much is conjecture and speculation. Hobbs certainly seems an unlikable character. But it’s important to note that the WM3’s troubled circumstances—poverty, mental illness, lack of education—are exactly what made it so easy to put them behind bars. Maybe it’s just as easy to blame the creepy redneck as it was for people to point fingers at the weird goth kids. But as we watch hacker group Anonymous enact vigilante justice in Steubenville, Ohio, in a similar case of urban liberals vs. redneck corruption, it seems an apposite time to ask whether trial-by-media is better or worse than no trial at all. I don’t have the answer, but it’s certainly something to consider as feeling returns to your ass cheeks.
  • Genres: Documentary
  • Running Time: 150 minutes
  • Release Date: Friday, December 21, 2012
  • Country: United States
  • Language: English
  • MPAA Rating: R [ Disturbing Violent Content, Some Language ]
  • Critic's Score: B+
  • Directed by: Amy Berg [Director], Amy Berg [Screenwriter], Billy McMillin [Screenwriter], Amy Berg [Producer], Fran Walsh [Producer], Peter Jackson [Producer], Damien Echols [Producer], Lorri Davis [Producer], Ken Kamins [Executive Producer], Maryse Alberti [Cinematographer], Ronan Killeen [Cinematographer], Billy McMillin [Film Editor], Nick Cave [Original Music], Warren Ellis [Original Music]
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