If you are not familiar with the case of the West Memphis Three, Amy Berg’s thorough documentary, West of Memphis (produced by Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh), will get you up to speed.
Three young boys, Stevie Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers, were found dead in a ditch in West Memphis, Ark., in May 1993. The circumstances of their deaths seemed to suggest some sort of satanic ritual—or so authorities thought. They arrested three teenagers, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley Jr., and eventually put them behind bars for more than 18 years.
The film presents much of the information shared in the three prior Paradise Lost documentaries, with a new emphasis on another stepfather and his possible involvement in the murders. If I have a bone to pick with these documentaries, it’s that they point fingers at other suspects, yet present little to no evidence to back their claims. (John Mark Byers, a stepfather of one of the murdered boys, was accused in the second Paradise Lost film; Terry Hobbs, another stepfather, is accused in this film.)
The three prisoners have been released—after accepting a deal in which they pleaded guilty while still proclaiming their innocence. Doing so not only got them out of jail; it saved Echols’ life. (He was the only one on death row.) As part of the deal, they can’t sue the state for putting them behind bars. Meanwhile, the real killer walks free. What these three went through is a travesty, and the state of Arkansas should be ashamed of itself.
In the end, the dude who directed The Lord of the Rings (and co-produced this film) had a lot to do with the West Memphis Three finally walking free. His generosity helped fund their law team.
Special Features: The package includes deleted scenes, film-festival interviews and, most notably, a commentary featuring Berg and Echols, a Blu-ray exclusive.