West of Memphis | Movie review
After three Paradise Lost films, Amy Berg’s documentary on the West Memphis Three feels redundant.
If you’ve never heard of the West Memphis Three, the Arkansas teenagers who spent 18 years in prison for a crime they almost certainly didn’t commit, Amy Berg’s documentary may shake you to your core. If, however, you’ve seen the Paradise Lost trilogy—a series of trailblazing, advocacy-sparking HBO docs on the same subject—you might instead experience a nagging impatience while watching West of Memphis. That’s because the new film is largely a recap of the older ones, with more celebrity testimonials and fewer Metallica songs but little fresh insight into the miscarriage of justice it chronicles.
Working with producer Peter Jackson, Berg cycles through the history of this infamous case: the grisly child murders that rocked a community; the arrest and conviction of three black-clad, metal-loving scapegoats; and the grassroots campaign that led, after nearly two decades of wrongful imprisonment, to freedom for the West Memphis Three. The film’s one significant addition is the introduction of some chilling new evidence, almost all of it involving Terry Hobbs, one of the slain boys’ stepfathers. For those still deeply invested in the unsolved mystery, a pinch of fresh information may be worth the price of admission.
Yet West of Memphis still feels redundant, as though Berg were just summarizing someone else’s work and echoing the outrage of a movement to which she arrived late. Maybe there’s no such thing as telling this story too many times, but one can still hope the people doing the telling find substantially more to add.