Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky
Photo: Dino DiGiulio
Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky have said that when they first travelled to Arkansas in 1994 to film the trials of Jason Baldwin, Damien Echols and Jessie Misskelley, Jr., they assumed, like many, that the defendants were guilty for the murder of three boys. But the filmmakers' change of heart can be felt in their passion and commitment to the case, which over the last 18 years has grown to become a trilogy of documentaries. Epic yet underrated, the Paradise Lost series has always deserved more: more viewers, more awareness and more action. And yet part of what has made the films about the so-called "West Memphis Three" so powerful is the sheer tenacity, defiantly returning every few years to restate the innocence of its subjects. Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory is a momentous conclusion, in part because it comes back with a little more bite that its predecessors, but also because it abruptly bumps up against its own surprise ending. Whereas the first film, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills, immersed itself in the nuances of the initial trials and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations felt like a tragic addendum with only a flicker of hope (released in 2000, it shows the proponents for the West Memphis Three boasting about their new website), the third film wisely re-examines the story anew. Digging up unused footage from their first two instalments, the directors provide fresh perspectives on the tragedy they've spent almost two decades returning to. Although it could be watched by itself, the film rewards viewers who have stayed with the story throughout, in particular when it brings back minor characters from the first film who were absent in the second. It's amazing to see so-called occult expert Dale W. Griffis return for an interview and maintain that the West Memphis Three were involved in the occult partially on the basis of their black T-shirts. On a more positive note, John Mark Byers (a wild-card, grieving parent in the first film and central antagonist in the second) shows a major change of heart when he returns in a minor role to vocalize the injustices of both the initial investigation and subsequent trials. Despite working within the documentary medium, without the advantage of much planning ahead, Berlinger and Sinofsky have unravelled every consideration about the murders that took place on May 5, 1993 to create a narrative tapestry on par with HBO's The Wire. Included on the DVD are deleted scenes and other unreleased footage, although curiously, the former come from the first film. Informative, they complement the rest of the trilogy well while also showing the restraint on the part of the directors attempting to streamline the sprawling story for audiences. With the failures of the police, the courts, the media and, most crucially, the community, there will never be true justice for either the victims' families or Baldwin, Echols and Misskelley, but with Paradise Lost 3, there's at least a document for us to hopefully learn from so many mistakes. (Warner)