MOVIE REVIEW: 'West of Memphis' a labor of love for director



3 stars out of 4

If you pay regular attention to any of the following: prosecutorial malfeasance, documentary films, inept police work, celebrity causes or twisted Southern justice -- you're already aware of the "West Memphis 3." This is the fourth documentary about them and although it recycles most of the contents of its predecessors, it's also the only one that tells the complete story.

In 1993 -- after the gruesome, ritual-style murders of three young boys in West Memphis, Ark., three teens were arrested and charged with the crimes and they certainly fit the profile the cops were looking for. All fond of goth and heavy metal, they also came with bad attitudes and, in the case of one of them (later determined to be a liar and mentally "challenged"), a full confession.

Found guilty by the courts, media and local residents, the convicts spent close to two decades attempting to clear their names while their attorneys searched for the truth. The longer they languished in jail, the higher their profile became and gained the attention, support and funding of (among others), filmmaker Peter Jackson (who produced this film), Johnny Depp, Eddie Vedder and the Dixie Chick's Natalie Maines.

What the convicts, their lawyers and their celebrity supporters didn't count on was a state judicial system that was at best, incompetent and at worst, just plain stupid and corrupt. Although reams of new evidence initially could not find another viable suspect, there was enough to more than make clear to anyone with half a brain, these three men -- by now all in their 40s -- didn't commit the crime.

The follow-up to her masterpiece about pedophilia in the Catholic Church ("Deliver Us From Evil"), "West of Memphis" is obviously a labor of love for director Amy Berg but she makes that rare documentary mistake of giving the audience too much information, or at least, being repetitive and long-winded. A good half-hour of the 147 minute running time could have been left on the cutting room floor and the scant few interview time with the convicts leaves us feeling if we're not getting the whole story.

In the end Berg benefits from the inclusion of a 2010 hearing that concludes with one of the most bizarre legal rulings in the history of the American judicial system. Even after seeing it you won't believe it. It is a prime example of adding insult to injury and will make you relieved you don't live anywhere near West Memphis, Ark. (Sony Classics)