WEST OF MEMPHIS (Amy Berg). 150 minutes. Opens Friday (February 1). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
Just a year after Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky brought Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory to TIFF, another feature documentary about Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., wrongfully convicted of the 1993 murders of three eight-year-old children in West Memphis, Arkansas, might seem unnecessary. But the story of the West Memphis Three can never be examined closely enough.
Amy Berg's narrative doc, featuring celebrity supporters like Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (who produced the film), Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and Natalie Maines, is much more emotionally accessible than the meditative Paradise Lost films.
West Of Memphis organizes two decades of investigation and activism into a comprehensive two-and-half-hour narrative, re-interviewing key figures from new angles and bolstering Berlinger and Sinofsky's thesis that the case epitomizes the horribly flawed nature of the Arkansas justice system, in which it is far easier to abandon an innocent man on death row than to reopen a closed case. Berg also had the opportunity to continue shooting past the ending of Paradise Lost 3, letting us see Echols out in the world with his wife, Lorri Davis, who spent years working to obtain his release.
These scenes provide an emotional catharsis I didn't realize I needed quite so badly.