Posts Tagged ‘Edward Zwick’

Jack O’Connell, Laura Dern

“TRIAL BY FIRE” My rating: B

127 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Familiarity breeds contempt. But given the right circumstances, it can breed compassion and understanding as well.

Edward Zwick’s “Trial by Fire” is a fact-based film inspired by the story of Todd Willingham, who was convicted of setting a fire that killed his three young daughters and executed by the state.

As protagonists go, Willingham is at first a hard man to care about. But by the time this gut-wrencher has come to its conclusion that proposition will be turned inside out.

The film opens in 1991 with Willingham (Jack O’Connell) crawling from his burning house in small-town Texas. He grabs a  jack from the trunk of his car and uses it to break the window of his daughters’ bedroom.  For his efforts he is very nearly incinerated by an erupting fireball.

Wellingham is arrested on the drive back from his childrens’ funeral.  The experts say the fire was deliberately started. Which makes this a case of murder.

And, frankly, the portrait of Willingham that emerges only cements his guilt.  For he is one unlikeable individual, a sort of white trash poster boy who beat and cheated on his wife Stacy (“The Deuce’s” Emily Meade), who drank and brawled and was known to have lied to the cops in the past.

His court-appointed attorney mounts not even a half-hearted defense, and in short order he’s on Death Row.

Geoffrey Fletcher’s screenplay (based on David Grann’s New Yorker article) dispenses with the nuts and bolts of the case in the first half hour.  The bulk of the film depicts how while awaiting execution Willingham finds his better self.


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