Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

NYFF REVIEW | "Paradise Lost 3" Ends a Saga of Injustice, But Many Questions Remain

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire October 5, 2011 at 2:33AM

"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival in an unfinished form because the film's real ending arrived, unexpectedly, a few weeks earlier. The men known as the "West Memphis 3," imprisoned while teenagers for crimes they likely didn't commit, spent 18 years behind bars. In August, they entered a trio of "Alford pleas," relying on a little-known law that allowed them to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence. Sentenced to time served, they went free that day. That meant 36-year-old Damien Echols evaded the death penalty; Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were released from their life sentences.
0

"Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory" premiered in September at the Toronto International Film Festival in an unfinished form because the film's real ending arrived, unexpectedly, a few weeks earlier. The men known as the "West Memphis 3," imprisoned while teenagers for crimes they likely didn't commit, spent 18 years behind bars. In August, they entered a trio of "Alford pleas," relying on a little-known law that allowed them to plead guilty while maintaining their innocence. Sentenced to time served, they went free that day. That meant 36-year-old Damien Echols evaded the death penalty; Jesse Misskelley and Jason Baldwin were released from their life sentences.

Their abrupt liberation brought a saga of injustice to an apparent close. At the same time, it opened a new set of questions: In a press conference immediately following the men's release, Echols said they would continue their search for justice: If these guys didn't kill three children in a gruesome act of mutilation, then who did? As "Paradise Lost 3" chronicles, new DNA evidence analyzed in 2007 failed to place any of the accused at the scene of the murder. However, it did open the possibility that Terry Hobbs, the stepfather of one of the children, could have been there. To date, Hobbs has not been officially investigated as a suspect and the prospect of a new trial fell to the wayside with the release of the West Memphis 3.

Directors Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky spent 18 years chronicling the story across three documentaries. During a New York Film Festival press conference, Sinofsky explained that the project had probably reached a stopping point. "Maybe it's time to turn the cameras off and let them live their lives," he said.

After so much build up, that conviction sounds far too premature, although it also testifies to the movies' ambiguous intent. A fast-moving collage of news reports, talking heads and verité, "Paradise Lost" and its sequels are too phenomenally dense for anyone to determine when the story has ended, including the people responsible for telling it.

If the series serves merely to expose a broken justice system, then its stars have survived its flaws and brought the documentarians' mission to a natural conclusion. However, the murders that led to their incarceration remain a tantalizing mystery, as does the question of whether Echols will follow through on his promise to continue his mission for justice from the outside. The final cut of "Paradise Lost 3" doesn't resolve either issue, although it fundamentally changes the movie's tone.

The rough cut ended on the brink of a new evidentiary trial before concluding with a brief credit noting the prisoners' August release. The result was sudden, inexplicable uplift: Anyone familiar with the West Memphis 3 from their roughly six-hour onscreen odyssey chronicled in the three parts of "Paradise Lost" has only seen them in custody. The simple news of their freedom brings the rush of a happy ending.

The final version, however, takes a much angrier direction. The filmmakers originally ended with Echols, his fate still uncertain, concluding that he had "led an incredible life." That's a moving, spiritual proclamation from a man who has been married and raised a son behind bars while coming to grips with his mortality. But now Berlinger and Sinofsky have tacked on a brief epilogue in which we see the same material documented by countless media cameras: The men enter their pleas and leave the courtroom. Baldwin, who resisted the plea on principle but agreed to the plan in order to save Echols' life, gets the final word. He lambasts the system for keeping him behind bars and forcing him to openly lie. The camera rests on a newspaper headline announcing the latest development before the credits roll.

I understand the filmmakers' intent, but ultimately feel divided by a desire for two non-existent conclusions: First of all, since the West Memphis 3 grew up shielded from society, their period of adjustment would make a fascinating standalone tale. But even if "Paradise Lost" intended less to become an intimate portrait than a form of activism, as Echols asserts, much work lies ahead. "Paradise Lost 3" continues the fascinating trajectory launched in 1994 and does the series justice, but it fails to close the book. Then again, perhaps the impossibility of that task is the most essential part of this historic trilogy's ongoing legacy.

criticWIRE grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? HBO has scheduled a theatrical release for the movies in the hopes of landing it some trophies during awards season. It stands a good chance of doing well commercially due to media interest in the story, but it's too early to tell what sort of competition it will have when the time comes for nominations.

Read indieWIRE's earlier review of "Paradise Lost 3" when it premiered unfinished at TIFF here.

This article is related to: Reviews, New York Film Festival, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More