West of Memphis
is a compelling documentaryâ€”surprisingly so at a butt-numbing 147 minutesâ€”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 releasedâ€”but not exoneratedâ€”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 itâ€™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 unfoldedâ€”from their perspective, at least. Jackson and his team employed independent experts and investigators to prove the threeâ€™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 itâ€™s important to note that the WM3â€™s troubled circumstancesâ€”poverty, mental illness, lack of educationâ€”are exactly what made it so easy to put them behind bars. Maybe itâ€™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 donâ€™t have the answer, but itâ€™s certainly something to consider as feeling returns to your ass cheeks.