Trial by Fire (I) (2018)

R   |    |  Biography, Drama

Trial by Fire (2018) Poster

The tragic and controversial story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas for killing his three children after scientific evidence and expert testimony that bolstered his claims of innocence were suppressed.

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  • Laura Dern in Trial by Fire (2018)
  • Darren Pettie and Jack O'Connell in Trial by Fire (2018)
  • Jack O'Connell in Trial by Fire (2018)
  • Jack O'Connell in Trial by Fire (2018)
  • With Ed Zwick
  • Still of Katie McClellan in Trial By Fire

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Reviews & Commentary

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User Reviews

20 May 2019 | jdesando
A true crime story where the truest crime is his conviction.
Director Edward Zwick and writer Geoffrey Fletcher movingly craft a biopic about convicted killer Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O'Connell) in the late nineties executed for killing his three children in a fire. While there are multiple instances of the filmmakers morphing incidents to make strong their case against capital punishment in Texas, the impressive facts in the case swayed the jury and the parole board and the public.

Yet Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern), a Houston playwright, befriends him and finds strong evidence that he may have had a weak defense, local justice withheld proof of innocence, and forensic evidence showing no arson, was all garnered too late. Although more than half of the film is spent on unnecessary setup, when the biopic gets to Liz unearthing new evidence, it becomes on fire, so to speak.

That last half has moments of tension while at the same time following the Hollywood formula of manipulating music, questionable coincidences, and charming convict. Although clearly the filmmakers make the case that his case was bungled, they also make sure to depict Todd as a redneck loudmouth unlikeable by any stretch, until, that is, he has time to educate himself and be contrite.

Dern and O'Connell are convincing in their roles as unlikely friends, with a hint of romance, the film's singular weakness being not connecting them earlier and getting to the evidence gathering sooner.

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Plot Summary


Biography | Drama

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