The definitive work on the West Memphis Three, who were released in 2011 after having served nearly 20 years in prison for a triple murder they had nothing to do with, will continue to be the three "Paradise Lost" documentaries of Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, who chronicled the case almost from its woeful beginnings. But the exhaustive and exhilarating "West of Memphis," from director Amy Berg ("Deliver Us From Evil"), benefits from Berg's own gifted filmmaking talents as well as the contributions of "Hobbit" director Peter Jackson and partner Fran Walsh, who financed their own independent investigation and helped get the three released in August 2011. Like the "Paradise Lost" trilogy, Berg's film helps illuminate a case that should certainly be the shame of the state of Arkansas, and perhaps the criminal justice system of the entire United States.
The WM3 -- Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley Jr. -- were convicted in 1994 of three child murders that were almost immediately, and with little obvious reason, announced as the work of a satanic cult, at a time when much of the country was in a panic over Satan worship and child abductions. As "West of Memphis" painstakingly explains, there was no forensic evidence linking any of the three to the deaths of the three boys (Steven Branch, Michael Moore and Christopher Byers), and there were certainly more obvious suspects (one of whom is all but indicted by Berg's movie). But law enforcement needed an arrest and the misfit trio fit the prosecutorial bill.
Berg does an outstanding job of summarizing the nearly two decades of court challenges, celebrity protests and the craven politics of Arkansas, to bring the story up to its not-entirely-satisfying conclusion. Stylish and concise (even at 2 1/2 hours), "West of Memphis" is also angry, indignant and a testament to righteous persistence.
PLOT Summation and resolution of the case against the West Memphis Three, convicted of a notorious triple child homicide in 1993 Arkansas.
RATED R (strong language, disturbing descriptions of violence)
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas
BOTTOM LINE Portrait of an outrage, rendered in smoldering fashion by director Amy Berg.