Thursday, January 17, 2013

West Of Memphis

This is one of the most powerful 21st century documentary films I've seen. I've been following the case ever since I saw Paradise Lost more than four years ago. A lot has been said about the West Memphis Three. This film is just further proof that Jason Baldwin, Jessie Misskelley, and Damien Echols had been innocent since Day 1, locked up for a long time based on poor circumstantial evidence, while the real killer was still at large. The angle is not 'why and how they did it', but rather, 'why and how they could not have done it'. It's also as much about the imbalanced justice system which betrayed them; the evocative film poster says it all. These days it's hard to be entirely objective when tackling a serious matter such as this. There's an overwhelming amount of information to put forth to the audience that the filmmakers (directed by Amy Berg and produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh) are already being subjective by choosing what to put in and what to leave out. But I think it's a very fair and honest film. They are just presenting the facts as it is, from both sides of the fence. No whitewashing of the truth. But the story doesn't end after the two and a half hours. We are encouraged to go on the net and read up about the case and continue the conversation with like-minded people. The ending was highly emotional. It's heartwarming to see the three men finally reunite with their family. But you also feel a tinge of sadness, because they had their freedom unfairly taken away from them at a young age, and they never got to experience what it is to 'live'. The soundtrack is equally terrific [link], bringing together artists from Americana and rock genres. There's Patti Smith performing Wing from the 2010 WM3 benefit in Arkansas, there's Natalie Maines covering Mother (the one by Pink Floyd), and Lucinda Williams doing a new rendition of her classic, Joy. Besides the songs, there are also small recitations of Damien's letters from Death Row by longtime WM3 supporters, Henry Rollins and Johnny Depp. People need to watch this film.