Posts Tagged ‘Jack O’Connell’

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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Jack O'Connell

Jack O’Connell

“’71” My rating: B (Opens March 20 at the Glenwood Arts)

99 minutes | MPAA rating: R

The soldier trapped behind enemy lines has long been a staple of the war film, but the new British release “’71” gives it an original and singularly deadly spin.

The place: Belfast. The time: 1971.

Private Hook (Jack O’Connell, looking about 10 years younger than he did in “Unbroken”) finds himself deployed to Northern Ireland.

“You are not leaving this country,” an officer reassures. Technically, he’s correct, for Belfast is part of the United Kingdom. But for all practical purposes Hook might as well be stationed on an alien planet filled with wildlife bent on killing him.

His immersion into the “troubles” is sudden and deadly. Doing house-to-house searches in a Catholic neighborhood, his unit is mobbed by furious locals hurling stones. Hook is surrounded and beaten, barely escaping with his life.

Meanwhile, his unit has scrambled back into their trucks and hightailed it for their barracks.  Hook is alone in enemy territory.

Here’s the problem: As a newcomer Hook can’t tell the difference between a Catholic neighborhood, where the locals would happily kill him, and a Protestant one where — in theory anyway — he can find shelter.


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