West of Memphis: Movie Review
A real-life murder mystery providing insight into criminal law and human behavoiur.
I stepped out of the cinema into the night and immediately my thoughts and senses started to race. Some movies do that to you and West of Memphis is one of them.
West of Memphis follows the story of six boys and their families. Three of the boys are convicted of murdering the other three in 1993, in the US state of Arkansas.
Director Amy Berg, together with collaborators like Peter Jackson, tells an intriguing story in this documentary. A tale, which starts off strange and convoluted, surprisingly becomes believable.
The careful unraveling of actual events throughout the movie help to complete the audience’s view of the entire story. But the moment you are certain of something, a new fact is introduced and your mind is left doubting itself.
Archived news broadcasts from during that time period takes the viewer back to the era of standard definition television, mullets, moustaches and baggy clothes. As images of court hearings and police evidence come up on the screen again and again, you start to get drawn into the case.
Allegations of satanic ritual and devil worship come up and the details of the crimes gets more gruesome. Threaded throughout are official interviews with members of the family of the boys involved. It was easy to see how a story like this gained the media attention it did.
The story then takes a few turns – the entire premise of the documentary is to highlight the incompetence of the American criminal justice system, and the rest of the film succeeds in doing that.
Fast forward to the present, producer Peter Jackson appears on screen, talking about the case. He’s swiftly joined by appearances by celebrities such as Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Johnny Depp, part of a movement called the WM3 (West Memphis 3), which champions the fate of the boys who are still in prison.
The documentary is detailed and factual but manages to stick to its own agenda very well throughout the narrative. It casts doubt on the very system society relies on to reign in chaos - and does this relentlessly.
This is a pretty heavy movie, so not recommended for young teens. But for those mature enough to see it, there are many lessons to be learned, not least the importantance of a fair and pure legal system, and the God-given desire in each of us to see justice done.
Remember when I said in the beginning some movies make you think - really think - and feel a little uneasy? I guess that’s how you judge if a documentary has done its job. This one definitely has.