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Review: West of Memphis

Ken Korman watches Amy Berg's documentary about the West Memphis Three

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© 2012 SONY CLASSICS
  • © 2012 Sony Classics

It's been a rough month for American justice on local movie screens. First Ken Burns' The Central Park Five documented innocent New York City teenagers railroaded into prison by zealous detectives and prosecutors. Now comes West of Memphis, the story of the West Memphis Three, the Arkansas teenagers who were falsely convicted of the murder of three 8-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 tell the tale, along with a strong measure of willful incompetence among small-town police and the medical examiner. The film can take us deep into events as they unfold because Peter Jackson — director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy — and his partner and fellow filmmaker Fran Walsh produced West of Memphis while funding an 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 near-catastrophic failure. — KEN KORMAN

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