My heart breaks as I write this review. In fact, it has taken me weeks to write it, which is why I have done so few reviews lately. My thoughts are jumbled and writing them down almost makes me more confused. This documentary was hard to watch, both because of its content, the real life events, and the way it stuck to me after it was finished. The filmmakers were incredibly convincing, both in their style, delivery, timeline, and story.
My personal opinions on the murder of three eight year old boys and who killed them does not have a place in this review, as I would like to focus on the filmmaking and its place in the Academy’s nominations. However, I feel a great hole in my heart as I think about that night in 1993 when three sets of parents were frantically searching for their children, and the horrible moment the next day when they found out why Michael, Christopher, and Stevie never came home. “The real West Memphis Three who will never be forgotten” (http://www.terryhobbs.com).
The film is divided into parts. The first two recap what happened in the previous documentaries, therefore if you are a newcomer to the story, like myself, the first half of the film is plenty to catch you up on what has been going on the last twenty years. The first chapter is clearly a product of the nineties, and is jarringly askew, aided by the overbearing Metallica accompaniment. Despite this fact, after adjusting my 2013 brain to their post-production decision, I found it fit very well with the horrific nature of the murders and the trials that followed.
The Paradise Lost films are not about three eight year old boys (Michael, Christopher, and Stevie) who were murdered. They are about the three who served time in prison for almost twenty years for the murders. The documentaries’ main goal was to prove their innocence and have them released. The filmmakers’ actions were desperate at times because one of the three convicted received the death penalty in 1994.
For someone who knew nothing about the film going into it, and even less about the murders it focuses on, I was fairly traumatized, to say the least. I watch a lot of crime dramas but very few documentaries on the same subjects, simply because the real life actions make me sick to my stomach, whereas dramatized circumstances are entertaining. I was horrified for the little boys, for their families, for their screaming mothers, and for the three teenage boys that may or may not have committed the crime.
Setting reality aside, the filmmaking was phenomenal. I can’t get past how wonderful the editing was, and how ultimately persuasive the filmmakers were able to make their argument. Whether or not they manipulated situations or left out evidence in hopes of convincing the audience that the three on trial were innocent is irrelevant because they set out to argue their case and were successful. The way they timed it, pieced it together, narrated it, and used the interview footage was all beautifully done.
Because of my own experience with this film, I recommend it lightly. Please understand the nature of the film and that if all you can handle is Hollywood crime dramas, this is one to stay away from. I am glad to get this review done so that maybe I can move on, and therefore recommend that if you also have a tough time letting go of reality, this might be a good documentary to pass by.