West of Memphis Movie Review
Déjà vu. The West Memphis Three are back in another documentary, despite already being featured in a trilogy of well received documentaries, one of which was nominated for an Academy Award. West of Memphis is prettier, glossier and filmed in hindsight of the release of the convicted killers, but it's essentially a cliff notes version of the Paradise Lost series. In other words, I've seen it before.
West of Memphis makes passing mention of the Paradise Lost series, but gives credit primarily to producer Peter Jackson and a bunch of other people who campaigned for the release of Jessie Misskelley, Damien Wayne Echols and Jason Baldwin. Credit aside, the film essentially recaps the questionable practices that led to the conviction of the three teenagers and their continued incarceration. More importantly, it directly makes the case that the killer is in fact one of the victim's stepfather, Terry Hobbs.
Which is sort of ironic, given that the media was partially responsible for spreading rumors during the original trial.
The documentary is slickly produced and covers the highlights of the case well. My biggest issue with the Paradise Lost was the raw and somewhat choppy storytelling approach; West of Memphis looks and feels like a big-budget production, which makes it more accessible.
And yet, the Paradise Lost movies are still so good and take a deeper dive into the case. Furthermore, they demonstrate the progression of the case over the series of 15 years - even the third one, which was released following the plea deals that gave the three men their freedom, was largely filmed before a resolution was found. Bottom line: for the best look at the West Memphis Three case, stick with Paradise Lost.
West of Memphis is a well made and informative film, but it never manages to escape the shadow of other documentaries on the subject, nor does it explain why it was necessary to make in the first place.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.