Trial By Fire Review: Edward Zwick is the director of the American biographical drama film Trial by Fire, which was released in 2018. The essay “Trial by Fire” by David Grann, which was published in The New Yorker in 2009, served as the inspiration for this story. Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern, Emily Meade, Jeff Perry, and Jade Pettyjohn are among the actors who star in this movie.
Trial By Fire Review: A Powerful Argument Against The Use of The Death Penalty
“Did Texas execute an innocent man?” asked David Grann’s New Yorker story “Trial by Fire” ten years ago. Cameron Todd Willingham was hanged in 2004 for arson-murdering his three children in 1991. Grann thoroughly examines the faulty investigation, the hasty trial, Willingham’s appeals (Willingham never pled guilty), and Texas’s knowledge that it executed an innocent man. Reading the article makes you furious. “Trial by Fire,” starring Jack O’Connell as Willingham and Laura Dern as Elizabeth Gilbert, the playwright who became interested in Willingham’s case, is a scorching polemic despite Zwick’s workmanlike approach. “Trial by Fire” plods and has a few poor narrative “devices,” but it nevertheless rages.
The early scenes indicate Willingham’s trial was shady. In Corsicana, Texas, Willingham was infamous. He was a heavy drinker and a violent husband to Stacy (played here by Emily Meade). The investigation into the fire that destroyed their modest residence seems hasty, and witnesses changed their stories during the trial. The neighbor who witnessed Willingham breaking windows to get back into the house suddenly claimed that he didn’t seem upset, just anxious about his car. (Willingham later said he pulled his car away from the house because he was afraid it would explode from the flames).
The prosecutor emphasizes Willingham’s heavy metal obsession and its apparent ties to Satanism (shades of the West Memphis Three). Willingham’s defense is weak because he can’t afford a lawyer. Willingham complains from the courtroom, but nothing happens. Convicted and executed.
Even without Grann’s essay, Willingham didn’t do this. These enraging passages lack suspense because they’re so clear. “Trial by Fire” combines a lack of tension with rage against injustice.
- You Season 4: What Is Going To Happen In The You Season 4?
- Kaleidoscope Season 2: Kaleidoscope Season 2 Will Star Which Actors?
Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) volunteers to write to a prisoner through a prison outreach program. Willingham’s hers. They meet, and their conversations through the glass partition are central to “Trial by Fire,” showing Gilbert’s transformation from a shy, uncertain woman with two teenage kids who don’t understand her obsession with a murderer and a dying ex-husband to an impassioned advocate for Willingham’s innocence.
Zwick prefers Gilbert’s middle-class society to Willingham’s, which is problematic as Zwick and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher follow Grann’s New Yorker article’s chronology. The picture settles into an atmosphere of book club girl chat, rushed breakfasts, and parental concern because Zwick knows Gilbert’s milieu firsthand. “You think you can stay out all night and come home and sweet talk me?” Stacy shouts in many of Willingham’s flashbacks. Despite its empathy, “Trial by Fire” is completely removed from such awful economic situations.
Here, Laura Dern’s authenticity and truth inspire. She unleashes the film’s rage and powerlessness. Gilbert investigates Willingham’s trial and tracks out Dr. Gerald Hurst, a noted fire investigator, to review the evidence. (Grann’s paper is excellent in explaining how faulty fire assumptions can sabotage arson investigations.) Jeff Perry plays quirky Dr. Hurst (and an original co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre). In a superb stand-alone sequence, Hurst sees from the crime scene photos that the fire was probably caused by a defective space heater.
Zwick and Fletcher’s “flourishes” don’t work, especially the ghost of one of Willingham’s daughters visiting him in prison and speaking on his bunk. “Thirtysomething,” Zwick’s TV series with Marshall Herskovitz, used this technique to put viewers in the characters’ brains. It’s weird here, superimposed. Willingham’s friendship with a prison guard who hated him is difficult too. These sentimental choices are unwarranted in “Trial by Fire,” an angry film.
It’s strange. It’s a raging ball of a film, a passionate op-ed column (with footage of then-governor Rick Perry supporting Texas’ death sentence legislation), and a typical melodrama about a lady neglecting her resentful teenage sons as she gets involved in the case. Dern’s passion makes you wonder why the story wasn’t from her perspective. Her heartfelt earnestness shows how explosive the injustice is.