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on August 6, 2013
I have to give this documentary 5 stars because it was even more riveting, thought-provoking and devastating than the original Paradise Lost film which I saw on HBO when it first came out in 1996. Though a bit long and drawn out in parts (should have been edited down to make it a neat 2 hours) I simply could not stop watching. I have never been convinced one way or the other about this case. On the one hand, I thought the evidence against the WM3 as presented in Paradise Lost and several of the books written about the case was minimal, I don't think I ever lost sight of the fact that 3 beautiful little children were viciously ripped from the world by someone and, putting the evidence together as it was presented by the prosecution, I could understand why the 3 were found guilty. This film doesn't gloss over that evidence or pretend it didn't exist but carefully and precisely dissects that original evidence presented in the prosecution's case to illustrate how it was misinterpreted, misrepresented and used to paint a picture of what they thought likely happened, NOT what was, in fact, the truth.

Motivated by electoral pressure, hearsay and ignorance, the state of Arkansas concocted a scenario (which ends up being proven wrong in this film) fueled by Jerry Driver, a 'Satanic cult' specialist and an unlicensed medical examiner who worked for the prosecution. Putting these things together, the prosecution produced this satanic scenario and made Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley fit this profile along with the so-called ritualistic wounds that were purportedly present on the victims. These wounds were misinterpreted to be evidence of sexual assault and ritualized murder from the start, based on the penile mutilation of one of the victims. West of Memphis analyzes these wounds and proves that they were post-mortem and NOT inflicted by the killer or killers. This fact alone puts the kybosh on the theory of satanic sacrifice altogether and demonstrates that not only were investigators jumping to conclusions from jumpstreet, but also that they didn't rule out any other possible explanation for what had happened to these boys if it did not fit their Satanic vision.

On the other side of this, before I saw this film, I still had my doubts about the innocence of the WM3. Again, based on hearsay and others' interpretations of evidence, I still felt it was possible that they were, in fact, guilty. Years ago when I heard that many celebs were coming forward to support these men and I saw all the new-found interest in the case I wondered if all the public support and outcries about injustice were based on celebrity involvement. (Wow, Eddie Vedder believes these guys are innocent and I love Eddie Vedder so they MUST be!! or Johnny Depp is friends with Damien Echols and I LOVE Johnny Depp and he must be right because he's so famous and hot and I want to be involved with what he's involved with etc. etc.) I didn't want to be one of these people who were jumping on some new pop-culture band-wagon so I remained neutral in my stance that the WM3 might be innocent but then again, they might very well be guilty.

Watching this film, changed that for me. West of Memphis breaks down the case bit by bit and points out exactly where the major mishaps occurred within the prosecution's original case. Some of these 'mishaps' were the result of bad politics, lousy investigative protocol and plain old ignorance. These errors could be considered similar to the messes that were made of the Simpson and JonBenet Ramsey investigations and deemed as products of human error. But, in this case, it is obvious that there was much malicious intent on the part of the prosecution, illustrated best by the prosecution's insistence that the knife found in the lake behind the Baldwin home was the murder weapon, when they knew for certain that, in fact, it couldn't have been. This film has many of these a-ha moments where you come to realize that these 3 men weren't victims of circumstance but of blatant and deliberate prosecutorial misconduct.

Yes, I've been online and have read through the West Memphis Three facts site that claim to have scores of evidence proving the 3 to be guilty. The only problem there is, how do we know ANY of that is true? More lies, more hearsay, more people talking about what they heard someone said or what they heard was found in Damien Echols' bedroom etc. etc. This film on the other hand, displays the facts and truths of this case that so many of us haven't heard. For instance, Jesse Miskelley's confession is scrutinized step by step and shows without question that he was coerced and led towards a confession by investigators hell-bent on getting an admission of guilt. Jessie's story is 100% hogwash and this film proves that.

The investigation done by WM3 supporters into the questionable character of Terry Hobbs paints a very disturbing picture of what is a much more likely scenario about how these boys were murdered. An abusive step-father accidentally beats his step-son to death and does it while his two friends are either present or somewhere in the house as eye or ear witnesses. The father has to get rid of them or they will tell what he did to his step-son. The father kills the other two, ties them up and dumps their bodies and bikes in the river. However, though this all does make sense and does point the finger at Hobbs, the only evidence that he was involved is a piece of his hair found entwined in one of the boy's ligatures. He may actually have been the one who did this to these children but then again, maybe not.

The state of Arkansas could care less about justice for these murdered boys. They are indifferent to the fact that 3 men spent 20 years in prison though they were innocent. They are simply concerned with pleasing the public and not looking like Mayberry morons for grossly manipulating the law. The Alford Plea takes care of all that. The WM3 get their freedom, the state can say that they got the right guys because they 'plead guilty' to the murders, they can wash their hands of all future lawsuits and they don't have to investigate or look for the real killer, which makes Hobbs, guilty or not, basically immune to investigation by the state of Arkansas.

To be fair though, I still would have liked to have heard a definitive cause of death for these boys. At one point, John Douglas (FBI profiler) says that they were put into the water alive. I'm not sure I buy that. If it is true, then I would have liked a certain explanation of what they believe happened. I never heard that these boys had water in their lungs. In fact, I thought it was later a universally agreed-upon fact that the boys were murdered elsewhere and the river was simply a dumping ground. This doesn't jive with that. So yet another question that should have a simple answer but does not. Not sure why.

In the end, this film is heart and gut-wrenching and disturbing to say in the least. It sheds new light on a story you may think you already know well and will make you sick to your stomach when you find out exactly how the wheels of justice in this country often turn. The gratification of seeing the WM3 finally see freedom makes it all worth it, although you won't watch the end credits with any sense of true justice here. Three little boys were murdered 17 years ago. Three other little boys spent their youth and young adulthood behind bars and lost a quarter of their lives for nothing. Prosecutors were re-elected, judges moved higher up on the political ladder, none have accepted or acknowledged their role in any wrongdoing and still, we have no justice for three little boys. Sadly, this film's greater message is that the state of Arkansas lost sight of their duty to ensure justice for three little boys and blundered on all levels of ethics and politics when their focus became not on Stevie, Michael or Christopher but on a different set of 3 who will, according to the state of Arkansas, now always be considered murderers.
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on January 11, 2013
This movie shows a true mistake in the American justice system. If you know anything about the case of the west Memphis 3 than you know that Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley Jr were wrongfully convicted of the murder of 3 eight year old boys. West Of Memphis shows the damning amount of evidence against Terry Hobbs a victims step father. He is the only parent of the victims that still believe's the West Memphis three are the killers. What is truly sad is that because the state of Arkansas will not admit a mistake, Terry Hobbs has gotten away with murdering 3 eight year old boys. This movie shows when the West Memphis 3 walked free after accepting an Alford Plea. If you don't know what that is it means the West Memphis 3 can maintain their innocence but must plead guilty to the murders. That means that the case is closed and the real murder Terry Hobbs gets away with it. This shows that the state does not care about justice AT ALL they only care about being right.
1010 comments57 of 68 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
WEST OF MEMPHIS (Dir. Amy Berg, Prod. Damien Echols and Peter Jackson, 2012, 145 minutes) ~ Since I just came away from seeing this riveting documentary about the three innocent men known as "The West Memphis Three", I have read no other review on Amazon as yet. This is deeply personal for me. I'd like my review to reflect that and stay simple.

Anyone not living in this dimension might say they don't know who "The West Memphis Three" are--so in case you do not know, they were the teen kids (Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin) who were falsely convicted and imprisoned for the murders of three little boys. That happened in the early 1990s. Help from all around America and the globe spurred action in Arkansas (that is where West Memphis is, not Tennessee).

This documentary covers just about all I could have hoped or imagined about this epic wrong-men story. Having been absorbed by HBO's seminal and important documentary series about this, The Paradise Lost Trilogy Collector's Edition (see my reviews but I reviewed each of the three films, not the set), this documentary shocked me deeply.

It was only days ago I saw a 2012 "Frontline" 55-minute special on this subject--"Frontline" seems to have stolen quite a bit of material from this documentary, and I suspect it was actually a slighlty ssanitized, shortened "free" version of this.

WEST OF MEMPHIS stunned me because several people who allegedly do not do interviews (or refuse to talk) were here, and BOY, were they a-talkin'. The dopey Judge Burnett, who must be one of the worst judges I have ever heard of, gives an in-depth interview as does just about everyone you thought had never even given one interview.

There's so much more here than you think. I knew the head honcho at HBO hollered for a while that they had to do a 4th PARADISE LOST documentary because there was so much left to tell. WEST OF MEMPHIS probably put the kaibosh on that once and for all time. One of the murdered boy's stepfathers, the infamous (but innocent) Mike Byers, is filmed in front of the courthouse, pointing to another stepfather, Terry Hobbs.

"There's the baby killer, why don't you talk to him?!" Byers hollers, and after an obvious retort we can't hear, Byers reminds us of the 1st Amendment. I always pay attention to Byers because he is something of a reformed man. In HBO's Revelations: Paradise Lost II (a/k/a PARADISE LOST 2 or PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS, see my review) Byers was more or less condemned through his appearance and behavior in that film. My wife and I suspected him, because we felt one of the stepfathers was guilty--Byers always seemed like he fit the bill, sad to say. He does not fit it now: someone else does.

WEST addresses that new "suspect", Terry Hobbs, who is a man apparently already condemned by many in his community. The film doesn't shy away from that newer part of the story. There's a great deal here that pops the eyeballs. Eddie Vedder is on camera a bit much for my taste, but then he did much for the Three. Producer and director Peter Jackson did so much for the Three and I was hardly aware of his participation--therefore it is a pleasure to see him interviewed so extensively on the subject.

Just think, while he was translating Tolkien to the big screen, he was also helping the Three to prove their innocence and get out of jail. The Dixie Chicks appear here because of a smarmy comment they made about the now-suspected Terry Hobbs, who sued them for defamation and lost. I was gobsmacked when the film managed several interviews with the pal Hobbs was using/manipulating as an alibi. No one ever talks about him--and I can't even recall his name. In a chilling taped phone conversation, Hobbs assures the man that if the Three go free, the authorities will pursue him as well as Hobbs.

Evil.

What I did not know was the day the Three were set free, Eddie Vedder, Peter Jackson and the Dixie Chicks were in the courtroom. The judge acknowledged their help and thanked them. I admit I wept. Another stunner, at least for me, was seeing world-renown pathologist and former coroner Dr. Michael Baden speaking on the subject of the innocence of the Three, logically concluding someone close to the little boys had killed them. I didn't even know Dr. Baden had been involved (Jackson involved him).

The tip line for some reason is still up and running, or it was in 2012 when the Three were released after 19 years in prison. Perhaps the most stunning of all was the revelation of two young men, childhood pals of the murdered children and their families. They apparently called into the tip line because they grew up hearing about what they allege was called "the Hobbs Family secret". Namely, that Terry Hobbs had murdered the children and that the family knew it.

I rejoiced seeing intimate footage of Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin (who only agreed to participating in the special plea to free Echols, his best friend), though there was far too little of it. I was most disappointed that there was next to nothing about Jessie Misskelley. A final small complaint I have about this movie is I did not need to see the many people involved in this who were clearly trying to make bigger names for themselves. I accuse no one--I merely make an observation. And I am extremely glad they tried to make a name on this issue.

Get this, if you missed the HBO PARADISE LOST series of documentaries (which of necessity were made many years apart). WEST OF MEMPHIS neatly and elegantly tells the entire sad and weirdly complicated epic tale. It is a tale of police stupidity, a certain corruption, the shoving onto the public of anti-Satanist propaganda--and the triumph of justice. It tells so much and adds to the happy endings that I feel the PARADISE LOST documentaries simply did not show/tell enough. However, had it not been for HBO's original Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (a/k/a PARADISE LOST I, see my review) none of this would have occurred.

Even if it was crooked and wrong justice, I'll bet the the Three are happy enough because some justice was finally accomplished. To paraphrase Damien Echols, the biggest issue is not himself, the other two men, or their story. The biggest issue is that someone murdered those three children and is still walking free among us.

You MUST get this and see for yourself what this story is and what it will mean for the future.
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"West of Memphis" (2012 release; 147 min.) brings the story of the West Memphis Three case, in which three teenagers in West Memphis, Arkansas are accused and convicted of the 1993 murder of three 8 year old boys in what appears to be a "satanic" killing after sexual abuse. But we know by now (and this is not ruining the 'plot') that the three teenagers would eventually be released. Several comments:

First, in the retelling of the events, the documentary reminds us that one of the three teenagers in fact confessed to being at and witnessing the murders, even though in fact he did not. This is reminiscent of that other documentary from last year ("Central Park Five"), in which a group of teeneagers confess to a crime they did not commit. Why do the innocent then confess? Just watch! Second, there are a lot of interesting tidbits in the movie that will make you revolt against the way the prosecution AND the jury AND the West Arkansas community at large essentially railroaded the three defendants at the time of the trial. They all wanted someone to be convicted, and they got three of them to be convicted. Third, it only takes about the first hour of the movie to expose the injustice and at that point I thought to myself "what else is there to be told for another hour and a half?". Let me simply assure you that the documentary goes into several new directions that will surprise and make you shake your head even more.

A lot of people gave their all to expose this injustice, including Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson and Eddie "Pearl Jam" Vedder, just to name those. I found it rather strange that so much screen time was given to Jackson in particular, but then when the credits started rolling at the end of the movie, I noticed that the movie is co-produced by Peter Jackson (and Damien, one of the three defendants). Director Amy Berg, who previously gave us another excellent documentary called "Deliver Us From Evil", does a great job pulling everything together, although I will admist that at 2 1/2 hrs., the movie is just a bit too long for its own good. Last but not least, the excellent soundtrack for the documentary comes courtesy of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis (of the Bad Seeds), who last year also scored the excellent "Lawless". I happened to catch this movie recently in Sydney, Australia while I was there on a bunisness trip. It's supposed to come in theatres soon in the US. Bottom line: this movie is riveting and revolting at the same time. As a lawyer myself, it just never ceases to amaze me how certain procescutors will do whatever it takes to come to a "politically correct" verdict, regardless of the facts and at whatever cost. Meanwhile "West of Memphis" is HIGHLY, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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on March 2, 2014
I teach history at the university level. I have been using the first documentary in the Paradise Lost trilogy in the classroom for about eight years. While there is some previously unused footage in West of Memphis, the major difference for me between this film and the Berlinger/Sinofsky documentaries is the pace and perspective. West of Memphis jumps all around the timeline, from the trial to prison and back again - that alone makes West of Memphis unusable for my purposes because that is one hell of a spoiler, frankly. When I show the documentary to students, they feel confident that the trial will end in acquittal before the end of the movie. (Usually only a few of them know about the case a priori because the only news they get is Jon Stewart, otherwise they'd know all about the case outcomes from NPR etc.). Their rage, confusion, bafflement, and fear when they discover that the WM3 get sent to prison is what I want as part of their learning outcome; I teach the case in a unit on the early modern witch craze, and have students compare the WM3 trial to those of European cases and Salem. It robs them of their complacency, their "it could never happen now, it could never happen here" - and I *want* them not to feel complacent, I want them to be aware and alert and to participate in what's happening in their communities and states. The first documentary builds from the discovery of the bodies to the trial, and ends with the conviction. The camera perspectives and use of interview provide an immersive viewing experience and the documentary has a sense of narrative continuity. I would not want to show West of Memphis to someone unfamiliar with the case, they'd be confused as hell about the when/where of things as the narrative position on the timeline jumps all around. Also, and I do not get this one tiny bit, West of Memphis has the weirdest score I think I've ever heard in a documentary. It's sort of subliminal until you notice it, but once you do it will make you insane, because it's basically like a Bach fugue slowed down by 100x playing continuously in the background, so it's just one note for two minutes, then another note for two minutes, and so on. I'm sure it's supposed to feel melancholy or something, but it's just incredibly annoying. It's like having someone saying "DURRRRRRRRRRRR" in the background all the time, with slight variations in pitch. I hate to neg the movie; I wanted to like it, but I couldn't make it. I could not believe it was possible to make the story of the WM3 so relentlessly boring, because heaven knows it is NOT. All I can say is that if you're wanting to teach one of the four documentaries in a classroom, choose the first one, because all of your students will spend the next few free hours they can grab doing research to find out what happened when and how this could happen and etc. - if you want a summary of the case stripped off all the bizarre color and community context and crime scene footage and weird people, get this. I think the filmmakers wanted to remove all of that from the story in order to make claims about the justice system without all the weirdo West Memphis people making it look like something that happened in Crazytown (and could only happen in Crazytown). I think that's a bad choice. Witch hunts happen when communities go insane, and it's not actually that hard to tip them over, especially if they're uneducated, especially if they're religiously fundamentalist, especially if they're isolated, etc. - to me, that's an incredibly important takeaway. Smoothing off all those edges, showing all the people who were involved in a retrospective view that makes them look repentant and rational, taking away the nightmarish carnivalesque atmosphere of the whole thing... Makes the story less scary, and more like Just Another Miscarriage of Justice instead of what it really was: an actual witch hunt, in America, in the 20th century, which nearly cost three young men their freedom, and for one of them - his life. You will get a better sense of the human element, the community dynamic, the time and place, and the energy that runs through the events culminating in the trial with the first documentary. In my opinion, it is the best and most powerful of all four films.
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on August 18, 2013
I know I will view all three of the PARADISE LOST films for a second time one of these days. But the excellent 2012 documentary WEST OF MEMPHIS condenses the information those three titles provide and sheds more light on the person who could have committed the murders for which three teen-aged boys were wrongly jailed for seventeen years. If you have not seen the PARADISE LOST titles, WEST OF MEMPHIS is a shortcut to learning about that egregious injustice.

Innocent people are imprisoned for cultural and political purposes all the time in America. As WEST OF MEMPHIS depicts, the three young men were sent to jail for both reasons in West Memphis, Arkansas.
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on August 29, 2013
This film is a brilliant culmination of a film chronicle of one of the most shocking and fascinating trials in the history of crime. Watching it in widescreen/blu-ray format adds to the experience (too bad the other Paradise Lost installments couldn't follow suit). The film has volumes to say about American justice and about the ease with which people in our society rush to judgment when confronted with people who are "different." It was great to see how the real-life characters evolved relative to the first film. Don't miss this great documentary film.
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on September 27, 2013
Just as is likely for most people watching this movie, I saw Paradise Lost when it first was on HBO and subsequently watched the two sequels. For all these years I've been shocked and saddened about the injustice of this case, not only because of the lack of a fair trial for these three boys but also because the real killer(s) remains unknown.

I have also grown up a lot over the past 20 years, just as Demian has (we are the same age) and I agree with what he says in this movie that, sadly, injustice like this is much more common in the US than any of us would like to think. This is one of the reasons why the middle of the movie bothers me.

It is not for this movie to put Terry Hobbs on trial. Perhaps it's a terrible wrong that the police seem to turn away from the possibility that he needs to be more thoroughly investigated. That could certainly be the case. But that presumption is not worthy of a gigantic chunk of this movie because a film cannot function effectively as a courtroom and the audience is certainly not a jury.

Would you like to be put on trial the way Terry Hobbs was in this film? Have a director editing and manipulating all the visual and quotes about your possible involvement in something from 20 years ago? Taking your DNA when you are out of the room for a moment? Maybe it's easy after the Paradise Lost movies to pretend that a film can function as a courtroom and audience can play jury. Maybe we feel like we all played a part (as audience and advocates) for the West Memphis 3. Maybe so. But these feelings are not facts and in this particular forum after the interminable witch hunt and its catastrophic consequences, this seems irresponsible.

I gave this movie four stars because I so loved the ending. Last Spring I saw Demian Echols walking in a SoHo (I live in NYC) and it completely made my day just to glimpse him finally free in the world on a beautiful day. For me, that was a glorious thing to see. I watched this movie because I wanted to see the day he, Jason, and Jesse got out of prison and some of what came after. It was worthy of four stars from me to see that.
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on January 7, 2014
For those that would like some insight on how the US Justice System mostly works, then this is the doc for you. Don't even think that these three innocent men are the only ones rotting in a prison when they have done nothing wrong. Far too many folks are not given a fair shake and once the word "Guilty" is dropped on them, they are ignored and all but forgotten, with appeals taking years and most of those being denied before a judge even looks at the file.
This particular case garnered so much attention because of the absolute bungling the state of Arkansas performed on the case of the murdered three boys. Instead of trying to actually solve the crime, they took the easy way out and went full-bore on three teens who had alibis (which were ignored), had never met the boys (didn't matter) and had absolutely no motive (what's that?). Although I am glad with the release of Damien, Jesse and Jason, I am appalled that they still have to walk with guilt tied around their necks just so Arkansas doesn't have to admit to any wrongdoing.
Justice in this case will not come if the murderer is not found. On top of that, though, justice will not come until the prosecutor, judge and jurors of the original trial are all behind bars, where they belong. They ruined three lives based on bigotry and ignorance. I hope they all rot.
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on June 5, 2014
very powerful and eye opening. Be careful this could easily happen to you or someone that you love. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam did A LOT to help get these men the justice that they deserve.
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