It’s been a rough month for American justice on local movie screens. First was Ken Burns’ The Central Park Five, a documentary about innocent New York City teenagers railroaded into prison by over-zealous detectives and prosecutors. Now comes West of Memphis, the story of the West Memphis Three, Arkansas teenagers who were falsely convicted of the tragic murder of three eight-year-old boys in 1993. Unlike Burns’ film, Oscar-nominated director Amy Berg’s West of Memphis is structured like a narrative movie with enough twists, turns and suspense to navigate its two-and-half-hour running time — normally the kiss of death for a documentary. Official misconduct and political ambition once again tell the tale, along with a strong measure of willful incompetence among small-town police and a medical examiner. The film can take us deep into events as they unfold because Peter Jackson — celebrated director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy — and his partner and fellow filmmaker Fran Walsh produced West of Memphis while funding the new investigation that ultimately led to a resolution in the case. Berg was there to capture all the details, and her film paints a rare portrait of a broken justice system through an instance of catastrophic failure.
West of Memphis is screening exclusively at the Elmwood Palace in Harahan. More info here.