Variety, as usual, is one of the first with a review of “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory,” the latest documentary on the West Memphis Three from filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. It’s a glowing review, though as it notes, the film that just debuted at Toronto isn’t the finished project. That’ll come Oct. 10 in New York.
What won’t change is what the film, in its current state, does so well: synopsizing all that’s come before, juggling dozens of dates, events and people, without ever losing the narrative flow. The film incorporates the startling new information — including a medical examiner’s conclusion that wild animals, not human killers, committed the “mutilations” of the victim’s corpses — and arrives at a coherent combination of the new and old.
Berlinger and Sinofsky make use of all manner of footage in constructing “Purgatory,” including deposition videos of chief West Memphis investigator Gary Gitchell (who continues to insist that the original convictions were correct) and Hobbs, who at one point sued Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines, one of the many celebrity supporters of the West Memphis 3, thus putting himself under oath and opening himself to questions about the murders. These sequences are fascinating, as is the very fact of Hobb’s presence in the film; an end title states that certain interview subjects were paid (though it names no one).
The “Paradise Lost” films have probably had a more tangible influence on the cause of justice than any docu since “The Thin Blue Line,” which only had one life at stake. What the three films have ultimately done is not solve a crime so much as expose a resistance to truth that’s endemic to the criminal justice system, here in Arkansas.