West of Memphis is a masterfully pieced together documentary that tells a captivating true story. Despite the long run time, West of Memphis delivers the emotion and power every great documentary should.
West of Memphis tells the story of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin. At the ages of 18, 17, and 16 respectively, Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin were imprisoned for the murder of three 8 year old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas in 1994. Echols was sentenced to death, Misskelley was sentenced to life imprisonment plus two 20 year sentences, and Baldwin was sentenced to life in prison.
But what if these three boys weren’t the murderers? What if the real culprit (or culprits) are still out there? This is how the stage is set for West of Memphis. The film is about searching for justice. It takes us through every stage of the West Memphis Three investigation. From the day the children were murdered, through every day of trials, and every piece of evidence, West of Memphis opens our eyes to the real story behind the murder of Stevie Edward Branch, Christopher Byers and Michael Moore; three 8 year old boys murdered in cold blood.
West of Memphis doesn’t leave anything up for interpretation, it lays out the tale of the West Memphis Three with the intent to prove their innocence. It makes a strong case by meticulously plotting out each flaw, exposing every hole in the prosecutions case. Witnesses who spoke before the jury in ’94 are brought back and interviewed. Did they lie on the stand? Were they even sober enough in the courthouse to be a reliable source when they gave their testimony?
Damien Echols’ wife Lorri was aided by producers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh (Lord of the Rings Trilogy), along with other celebrities such as Eddie Vedder and Henry Rollins, to put money and resources into new DNA testing, further investigation, and public awareness to prove the innocence of Echols, Misskelley, and Baldwin. In addition to trying to debunk the wrongful imprisonment of the West Memphis Three, this further investigation starts to bring to light who may have really murdered those three young boys.
The downside to the film is that it tries to fill you in from square one then bring you all the way to the present. The film ends up with a very long run time that will test the patience of some movie goers. For me, however, I was kept engaged throughout the whole thing. As someone without any prior knowledge of this fascinating case, I was hanging on every word. That’s another point to bring up: if you have followed this story outside of the film, you’ve already been spoiled.
If you’re an avid follower of the West Memphis Three case, then you already know how the film ends and then some. This film has had real life implications. So, if you’ve read the news, you might know already what fate has dealt the West Memphis Three. If not, I highly recommend you see this film and find out.