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35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful And Disturbing: A Collection Of Three Films That Actually Changed History As They Became A Part Of It, July 27, 2012
This review is from: The Paradise Lost Trilogy Collector's Edition (DVD)
The plight of the infamous West Memphis Three has been the center of controversy for almost two decades now. Upon discovering three eight year old boys murdered and discarded in the Robin Hood Hills area of West Memphis, Arkansas in 1993, a subsequent investigation caused local police to target three teen outsiders for the crime. Based on the most specious of evidence and a rampant desire to see justice done for such a heinous act, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley were convicted and sentenced in 1994 despite a clear lack of physical evidence or motive. Due to Echols appearance, interest in metal music, and fascination with disturbing imagery, the deaths were chalked up to being a part of a dark occult ritual. And a frightened and justifiable mob mentality ruled the day (especially as word of Misskelley's questionable confession circulated).

But the facts never really added up and filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky were on hand to document the proceedings in the disturbing feature (which won them an Emmy among other accolades) "Paradise Lost: The Child Murders of Robin Hood Hills" in 1996. As that film highlighted an apparent miscarriage of justice, it caused the West Memphis Three to become a national cause celebre. Graphic and unpleasant, it was a riveting film that brought an unrelenting awareness to the case and the legal system in general. In 2000, the pair released "Paradise Lost 2: Revelations" which was largely in response to the first film's reaction. It caught up with the boys in jail, and the focus seems to have been to dig further into the evidence and other possible suspects. It is more speculative in nature, but with all the doubt that surrounding the original convictions--the question is asked why no further investigation has been pursued if justice were a primary concern.

Now "Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" puts the concluding note on this tragedy of injustice. Ten years after the second film, this documentary covers all the efforts that have been made in the preceding decade to garner the boys a new trial. New experts, new witnesses, new evidence--and yet it was an incredibly lengthy and disheartening process to get anything past the Arkansas officials who stood by the original convictions. News of what happened in 2010 has been reported extensively in the media, but I still won't reveal the final resolutions depicted within the film. I will say that, once again, this is a stirring document about real world events. The film cuts between modern interviews, to scenes from the original film, to pertinent footage throughout the last ten years. Major players have shifted allegiance (including someone Echols had initially cast aspersions about), a viable new suspect emerges (his testimony is chilling as he is questioned about the murders in his lawsuit against Dixie Chick Natalie Maines for defamation), and the legal system continues to disappoint (even in the face of national scrutiny).

As a stand-alone film, "Purgatory" works fine. It recaps enough to keep anyone in the loop. But as the third part of a trio of films, it is astoundingly effective. To watch all three films is to experience filmmaking at its most powerful. We talk about film having the ability to transform lives, especially documentaries, but Berlinger and Sinofsky have proven it with the "Paradise Lost" series. Eighteen years in the telling, it is their first film that affected everything and led to the final outcomes. The films have become a part of the documentary. Echols even thanks them for putting the case into the spotlight and essentially saving his life from the lynch mob mentality that surrounded the initial arrest. It's strong and powerful stuff, as well as disturbing, and this is a story will linger with you long after the film ends. While I easily recommend this movie, do yourself a favor and get all three to see where filmmaking crosses over into history making. Perhaps the biggest injustice, though, is that the politics and legal wrangling have overshadowed the tragic deaths that precipitated everything. So thankfully, the film wraps with a tribute to the murdered boys. KGHarris, 1/12.
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