Posts Tagged ‘Arkansas’

Director: Jeff Nichols

Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard

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It was somewhere during the end of the nineties that the seed of Mud was planted in the head of director Jeff Nichols. In 2008 he wrote down the script, and in 2011 he finally started making it, without any help from any big studios.

Ellis and Neckbone, two fourteen year olds boys who live on a remote town in the Mississippi delta in Arkansas, deep in the American south. Where people hold on to a way of life that is ceasing to exist, where all metal has rusted and all wood has rotten. Nevertheless , the two boys lead careless lives, in an adventurous scenery that the Mississippi brings with it. One day they decide to go look for an abandoned boat that ended up in a tree after the latest flood, on an island in the Mississippi delta. They find the boat, but they quickly find out it isn’t as abandoned as they thought.

A man called Mud (Matthew McConaughey) is living in it. The boys’ curiousness gradually takes over from their initial distrust over this strange man who seems to be hiding, waiting for something or someone. Especially Ellis (Tye Sheridan) grows closer to Mud and helps him out. First by getting him food, later by being a go-between for Mud and his supposed girlfriend on the main land. Ellis has a naive understanding over the concept of love, which, to him only exists in a pure and never ending form. When he finds out that Mud is sort of waiting for his girl, his alliance to him becomes almost dangerously unconditional.  But Ellis is about to find out, through different events in his life, that love doesn’t always come in a fairytale-version.

Mud is a movie that with striking acting performances: a sturdy Sam Shepard, as Mr. Blankenship.  Tye Sheridan is magnificent as young Ellis. But without any doubt it is (even-though he is once again wearing a white shirt) the melancholic Matthew McConaughey, who plays the part of his life and seems to keep getting better and better. Mud is beautiful storytelling, with a tinge of the adventurousness of Tom Sawyer, it inevitably will also remind you of Stand By Me, brought together in a shade of American tristesse.

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Director: Amy Berg

Actors: Damien Wayne Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jason Baldwin, Eddie Vedder, Henry RollinsPeter Jackson

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I didn’t really think I was going to talk about documentaries here, but that was before I found out about the ‘West Memphis 3‘, a few months ago. The West Memphis 3 were three teenagers from West Memphis, Arkansas, who were wrongfully convicted for the murders of three 8-year old boys, back in 1993. ‘West of Memphis’ is the fourth documentary dedicated to this case. The first one dates back to 1996 (Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills). I stumbled upon it by coincidence and after seeing it I immediately watched part 2 and 3 as well. (Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (2000) and Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory (2011)). The three teenagers’ sentences ranged from life imprisonment to the death penalty. Because of the documentaries, the case got even more media coverage and caught the attention of a few celebrities like Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Peter Jackson who started giving their support to the defendants  . Finally, the West Memphis 3 were released last year.

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All four documentaries basically cover the same issues, though new facts appear and are added to the story over the years: three teenage boys (Jessie Misskelley, Damien Echols and Jason Baldwin) are accused and convicted of a triple child-murder without any real evidence against them. Damien Echols was held accountable by the  local police and justice department, based on a forced confession and his interest in the occult, the two others basically because they hung out with him. The murder of the three boys was, according to local authorities, a satanic ritual. The catastrophic incompetence of the local authorities is exposed: evidence against other possible suspects is overlooked or simply ignored, judges and prosecutors try to make a name for themselves at the expense of the defendants. It is the ultimate example of a modern-day witch-trial. I’m not going to sum up all the facts that are presented, that would be too much, you can find all of that on the web. I will say this though: the story of the West Memphis 3 and the child murders at Robin Hood Hills is one of justice failure, abuse of power and ignorance, but also about courage, solidarity and standing up against injustice. Of course, all of that doesn’t bring back the 3 young boys who were killed, and on top of that, their killer is still out there.

To fully comprehend the entire story and background of this case, one should watch all four documentaries. Not only to get all the facts, but because they are spread out over such a long period of time (from 1993 until 2012) it gives you a genuine feel of how long this flagrant injustice went on. You see the three boys as teenagers in the first parts, when they are finally released, they are men in their thirties.