|'This is an episode in U.S. legal history so grim, you suspect people might even shout loudly about it in the appropriate circles before changing absolutely nothing.'|
As West Of Memphis reaches its conclusion, it is somehow fitting that the now infamous case of the West Memphis Three ends not with straightforward justice being served but with injustice being served. That the three wrongly imprisoned men in the case find their salvation in a legal technicality so mind-numbingly stupid that it allows a District Attorney to still proclaim that Jessie Misskelley, Damien Wayne Echols and Jason Baldwin were guilty, is somehow fitting of a case mired in years of stupidity, paperwork and a lack of common sense; in short, mired in the the miss-functioning U.S. legal system.
Amy Berg's film then has a fairly easy job in tying together the threads of the three Paradise Lost films, which highlighted the case in cinematic parlance. This is an episode in U.S. legal history so grim, you suspect people might even shout loudly about it in the appropriate circles before changing absolutely nothing.
Berg's chronological evaluation is lengthy, at one-hundred and forty-seven minutes, though hardly ever anything less than compelling. Legal details are pored over. Archive interview footage with the three men - boys at the time - is laced with audibly shoddy detective work. A new suspect is discovered and allowed to create his own noose with a camera rolling. This, in fact, is Berg's greatest strength as a director: she knows idiocy when she sees it and she knows that idiots need no more external judgement than a rolling camera and a topic on which to spout.
The only problems with West Of Memphis arrive when Berg occasionally loses this patience and we creep into theatre. Slashing knife effects in the courtroom as the pictures of murder victims are whisked in front of jurors don't help anything or anyone and its questionable if we needed to see as much of said pictures as we do, Berg clearly unsure of that fact herself, given how much of them she chooses to conceal. There's perhaps also a slight lack of new footage of two of the West Memphis Three, the film clearly focusing mainly on Echols, before Baldwin is brought in towards the end. Misskelley barely gets to say two sentences. Whether any of that is by the interviewees own design is unclear.
For a long documentary on a well covered topic though, this is accomplished stuff, well versed in legal knowledge, justice and the facts. If only the same could be said for members of the U.S. justice department, perhaps the whole thing would have been unnecessary.