West of Memphis Blu-ray Review
“FREE THE WEST MEMPHIS THREE!” was the battle-cry of those adamant supporters of three young men, teenagers at the time they were convicted, who sat in prison for years after being found guilty of the murder of three young children in Arkansas. As a parent I understand with renewed vigor the upset, the contempt with which people immediately respond to a terrible and heinous crime involving children. However it is mitigated by the fact that I want to know the truth… I want to know definitively what happened. One of the reasons this case has drawn such huge media attention throughout the years is the completely inept way in which the case has been handled, or perhaps I should say mishandled, from the very first day. WEST OF MEMPHIS is a new movie and a new take on the case, brought to us by producers Fran Walsh & Peter Jackson (the duo behind the LORD OF THE RINGS Trilogy), directed by Amy Berg (DELIVER US FROM EVIL, 2006).
WEST OF MEMPHIS is a retelling of the entire case, put together as simply as such a complex issue could be put together for film format. Less in-depth than Joe Berlinger & Bruce Sinofsky’s PARADISE LOST Trilogy of documentaries, originally produced for HBO (PARADISE LOST: THE CHILD MURDERS AT ROBIN HOOD HILLS, 1996; PARADISE LOST 2: REVELATIONS, 2000; and PARADISE LOSE 3: PURGATORY, 2011) with the final film receiving wide release, WEST OF MEMPHIS presents a more in-depth look at certain aspects of the case and focuses a lot of time on the missing investigation of one of the father’s of one of the murdered boys, Terry Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs had an alibi, though it appears it was quite a bit more flimsy than was noted by the police at the time.
The rest of the movie focuses on the renewed investigation efforts of Damien Echol’s wife, Lorri Davis, who actually met Damien after seeing the PARADISE LOST movies and striking up a correspondence with him. Her relationship with Echols really seemed to keep things going, giving him hope. Despite being in the right (at least in the opinion of this reviewer), the “West Memphis Three” continued to lose appeal after appeal, in part because of the court personnel’s inability to admit they may have made a mistake. Thankfully the movies and books (seriously, check out Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt if you enjoy non-fiction) brought the attention of some people who had the money to continue the cause – people like Johnny Depp (now friends with Echols and Davis), musicians Eddie Vedder, Natalie Maines, and Henry Rollins, and finally the aforementioned LOTR duo of Walsh and Jackson.
They are featured fairly prominently in the film for the incredible work they did, which included hiring some of the biggest names in the criminal investigation world – people who could actually make a difference; people who DID, in fact, make a difference in the case (like FBI Profiler John Douglas). All of this would be great if it resulted in a positive outcome without repeating the mistakes of previous films… The real injustice of this movie is the treatment of the new potential offender, Terry Hobbs. The movie takes a high-handed approach showing how previous films and books may have incorrectly pointed at Mark Byers, the father of one of the victims. But instead of taking the high road, the movie goes the exact same route by putting forth a case against Mr. Hobbs. I want to believe, because of the results of the work they did, that it was for the right reasons and the evidence really does put the case into this perspective. But as moviegoers how do we really know? In the end we are left with an incredibly made film, a compelling story, and some great subjects… it’s a shame these sorts of questions are still left.
It is a credit to Ms. Berg, who put together this movie at the request of Jackson and Walsh, that she is able to again put together such a well-crafted and compelling documentary. Her prior work, including the phenomenal DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2006), gave some indication of her talent as a filmmaker but the narrative of this film is put together with such incredible talent it’s hard to find fault in anything other than the conclusions. The footage includes brief snippets you might have seen in other places but the vast majority was shot exclusively for this film. In the special features, Echols says this is the first movie telling their story they were involved IN, instead of being told about them without their feedback. That point of view is clearly presented and, while certainly slanted, also adds context and heart.
Video: (1080p Widescreen 1.78:1) The video on WEST OF MEMPHIS is as clear as the source and looks beautiful. The new HD interviews look great and even the archival footage looks pretty nice on your TV screen.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1) The sound quality is equally impressive on WEST OF MEMPHIS, though it isn’t the kind of sound that’s going to raise eyebrows. A great soundtrack punctuates the narrative.
Audio Commentary with director Amy Berg, Damien Echols and Lori Davis A really great commentary for fans of WEST OF MEMPHIS or the entire West Memphis Three movement. This one features a deeper look into the making of a documentary of this scope while providing lots of information about Damien’s life inside and behind the scenes tidbits. This highly entertaining and informative commentary is the icing on a phenomenal Blu-ray package of WEST OF MEMPHIS.
Deleted Scenes (01:27:43) Almost an entire new movie is included here, scenes that didn’t make the cut for WEST OF MEMPHIS. These are the type of scenes that will interest hardcore fans and, again, fans of the movement but it’s clear why they weren’t included in this already lengthy film. Scenes included on the Blu-ray include: Vicki & Aaron, The Confession, West Memphis 3 Panel Discussion, Jeffrey Deskovic, Anything Made of Paper, Pam Revisits Crime Scene, and Jury Misconduct.
Toronto International Film Festival: Red Carpet and Q&A (23:14) This is a cool look at what happens at a film festival, with the filmmakers discussing WEST OF MEMPHIS, their process for putting together the film, the reasons they felt this was so important… and lots more.
Toronto International Film Festival: Press Conference (38:49) A moderated discussion with director Amy Berg, Damien Echols, Lorri Davis, Johnny Depp, and Peter Jackson (via Skype). They answer questions and discuss the case, adding even more value to the already packed WEST OF MEMPHIS package.
Damien’s Past (Re-Creations) Scenes from Damien’s past are included on WEST OF MEMPHIS, telling more of his story and creating context and backstory to a young man who has had to deal with a lot. The following scenes are included: Damien and Deanna (01:40), Dad Leaving (02:44), Skateboarding (01:01), and Trenchcoat (00:56).
The Blu-ray for WEST OF MEMPHIS also features the Theatrical Trailer (02:04) and Previews of other films from Sony.