Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Reviews
The point is that by the end of this series of films by Joe Berlinger and (sadly the late) Bruce Sinofsky, we have gone through a long journey full of missed (or more accurately botched) opportunities by the Arkansas legal system on multiple fronts to find the three men (at the time teenagers) innocent. And it's hard to argue that they were, despite what comes out at the end, but I'll come to that in a moment.
Part three is mostly set ten to eleven years after the events of the second 'Paradise Lost' movie, and a lot has changed in the years since the new millennium came around and things like new statutes in the state and new evidence peaks its head into existence (and better legal defenses for the three as well). But there are many surprises; the greatest and most unexpected one is a complete 180 from how one saw John Mark Byers. It may speak to the potential for the filmmakers being manipulative, going from positing him as a villain to something of a redeemed person, but it seems a little more complex than that. One may forget watching this film (it isn't mentioned directly) that at the end of part 2 Byers was off to prison. Maybe that changed him. Or just ten years and that monumental press conference with the host of legal experts - one from the FBI and one involved in the Ted Bundy case - can change a person's mind. But one of the things that's so absorbing this time around is how Byers, previously a Character with a capital C (one may or may not think watching part 2 he'd be capable of the crimes, it's left up in the air almost by how forceful he was in it), uses his knack for being outspoken for the side of the innocent, which he believes now they are (the dead wife is not mentioned, but that's another story altogether).
If there's one small criticism of the film is that there's a lot of footage from the past two films, with the first one shown from the original negatives (hence why they look so scratchy). But I think it's a necessary narrative angle since by this point there may be people coming to this documentary who may have not seen the other films in a while (or, presumably given the nature of channel-flipping TV and ADD) to bring things up and make it a complete narrative. I actually appreciated the use of footage here more than in part 2, and it helped to make a point-counter-point method for the first half of the film; so much time has passed, after all, that the new experts and lawyers and people of that nature could comment on this or that that was presented before, from the alleged occult symbols (basically debunked here as BS) or, most of all, the lack of DNA.
There's so much that comes down in this film that if one comes away at the end and still thinks Echols, Baldwin and Misskelley killed all three of the boys in 1993 then, well, at the least there's little room for any reasonable doubt in your mind based on ALL of the evidence (and as the chapter heading goes here, All is All). But perhaps the thing that will make me revisit this film over time is the fact that the potential - actual - killer comes up as a *different* father, Terry Hobbs, and while on the surface seeming to be less of a Force of Nature like Mark, he's actually an even more fascinating person to just stare at. Which, by the way, you get a lot of time for; via deposition videos, the audience basically gets to see up front what this guy is all about as far as his actual character. I really loved how the filmmakers didn't have to dig too deep to find moments that revealed this person in a whole new light than one saw in part 1; indeed I want to revisit that first part almost immediately to see if any of the signs were there (those little smirks, the bullish expressions) and if they were hard to miss.
Ultimately the West Memphis 3 were freed, but it was based in layman's terms on the justice system saying 'eh, get the hell out of here.' The Alford Plea let the men out, all now in their 30's, but the catch is that they can say they're innocent but plead guilty. One of the things that makes the form of documentary filmmaking so unpredictable and so vital and, in moments like these, so highly charged that it would be difficult to possibly take as a drama, are the turns a story could take. And yet in the Paradise Lost series, all the way through the end of this saga, there's this sense that the entire Justice system, from the police to the prosecutors (probably they come off not quite AS bad as everyone else, but close enough), to the jurors (or that one juror for sure) to the unmovable judge himself, it's all set up to say 'we are right, and you are wrong.'
There are incredible and serious implications and questions that are raised due to what can be read very easily in this story, and a lot of it has to do with class (would these men have been put away if they came from families outside of trailer parks and low-incomes) and status (the 'black-Satan-occult BS). Hindsight is 20/20, but perception is 9/10th's of the law. It's a sobering, harrowing, tragic story, and it's all told by these directors with clarity and focus and urgency.
There are some unlikely heroic elements to this story: the HBO documentary film crew, for one, who raised public awareness; Damien's strangeness--which oddly both led to his conviction, yet also drew viewers into his story who related to him; the incredible legal representation who changed Arkansas state law at the supreme court, and finally the all star cast of scientists who provided the fundamental new scientific evidence and testimony.
It makes one shudder to know that a murderous beast still lurks about in society, or that a state court system can exert so much power to force innocent people to admit guilt under the threat of death. However, the incredible transformation of the West Memphis three (i.e. Damien and Jason) into respectable young men of ideals and initiative, in the face of dire injustice, still sows a hopeful and almost happy ending to this gripping tale.
Long story short - Miss Scarlet did it, with help from the maid, Yvette.
Although the documentary was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature (2012), it lost out to "Undefeated."
For those who have the time, the entire series of HBO documentaries on this case are worth watching, but for those with time constraints, at least watch the latest in the series. For those who want even more details about the horrific crime and the innocent young men (teens at the time of sentencing), the most detailed account can be found in journalist Mara Levitt's excellent book "Devil's Knot" (now in production as a feature film).