Urban Cinefile
"One of the things I really decided early on in my life, was that as much as it would be fun to be rich or really famous, I really want to spend my time having variety in my life. "  -Actor James Woods
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In 1993 three young boys - Christopher Byers, Steven Branch and Michael Moore - were murdered in the small town of West Memphis, Arkansas. It took one day to discover the bodies. It took 11 hours to find three teenagers - Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and
Jessie Misskelley - guilty. It took 18 years to expose the truth. The film chronicles their trial, conviction and the subsequent investigation to prove their innocence, and a movement calling for their release, involving everyone from grassroots supporters to celebrated artists and musicians such as Eddie Veder and Johnny Depp.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
There are several notable elements to West of Memphis, perhaps none more notable than the destruction of my trust in the American justice system - or at least the Arkansas justice system. But let me start at the beginning and with some of the cinematic elements.

Although the film was clearly finished in 2012, director Amy Berg (remember her terrific 2006 doco, Deliver Us From Evil?) and her crew had been filming long before, including an interview with Peter Jackson, who along with his partner Fran Walsh of Wingnut Films, came to the financial rescue of the investigation as well as the film, years earlier. Jackson was fired by his deep seated loathing of bullying, and he considered the State of Arkansas had been and still was bullying three teenagers whose guilt was by no means certain, yet they had been sentenced and jailed. Their alleged crime was the murder of three 8 year old boys.

What is exceptional is the intimate footage of some of the key players in this long and distressing drama. I must especially mention a couple of phone conversations between Terry Hobbs - who eventually emerges as the prime suspect, but not to the police - and his friend David Jacoby. These candid conversations are not only vitally important but shockingly unguarded, as if they were re-enactments. They are not.

Together with the rich material comprising interviews with family and friends, the footage shot in the various court rooms and at the crime scene is riveting. American courts, unlike Australian, allow cameras inside and the result is powerful. To see witnesses and both defense and prosecuting counsel in action is terrific cinema; to see some stupid decisions by judges is infuriating.

Another superb element is the editing; co- writer Billy McMillin guides and shapes the film in what must have been an exhausting and demanding process, cutting a story with so many layers, so much detail and over such a time span.

The final cut is long but every second is worthwhile; we feel we understand the story in its entirety, we get to know the key players and we see inside a community which was devastated by the crime. The only thing missing is justice; the unpalatable fact is that the man who committed the crime cannot be tried for it, even if the weak shits of the Arkansas justice department wanted to.

Which brings me back to the evaporation of my trust in their misnamed justice system. The film presents how the prosecutor presented evidence (a knife) to the jury and lied about its relevance: it had no link to the murders and he knew that.

Unable to deliver justice the first time, Arkansas is unwilling to deliver justice a second time, when DNA evidence is at hand to help. It's shameful.

Meanwhile Terry Hobbs has his own website where he regurgitates all the 'evidence' that has been discredited as he claims his innocence.

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0


(US, 2012)

CAST: Documentary featuring Jason Baldwin, Damien Wayne Echols, Jessie Misskellev

PRODUCER: Amy Berg, Lorri Davis, Damien Wayne Echols, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh


SCRIPT: Amy Berg, Billy McMillin

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Maryse Alberti, Ronan Killeeen

EDITOR: Billy McMillin

MUSIC: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis


RUNNING TIME: 147 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 14, 2013

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020