28 May 2019 | paul-allaer
Well intended death row drama is too obvious
(I am surprised that Amazon doesn't have a listing of this yet as a future DVD release, as it usually does for movies currently playing in theaters. But to be clear, this is a review of the MOVIE, not of the movie's poster.)
"Trial By Fire" (2018 release; 127 min.) brings the story of "baby killer" Todd Willingham. As the movie opens, it is "December 23, 1991, Corsicana, TX", as we see a guy just barely escaping a burning house and screaming "my babies are burning!". Turns out his three young daughters were still inside the house, and perished. T's not long before the Corsicana police and fire department start looking into the matter, and conclude that the guy started an arson, and before we know it, Todd, refusing to take a plea bargain, is convicted and sentenced to death... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, and you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from producer-director Edward Zwick. Here he takes on the notorious case of the Texas Baby killer. It is a death row drama that is well intended (exposing social injustice), but alas is brought with the subtlety of a bull in a china store: "this is capital punishment: if you ain't got no capital, you'll get punished", comments an inmate at some point. This may well be true, but the movie bashes your head with this message over and over (cops: BAD, every single one of them! Texas judicial system: crooked through and through! in every single case!), and it simply becomes a tiring viewing experience. Laura Dern appears 45 min. into the movie as the well-meaning woman who (for reasons never explained) decides to take up correspondence with Todd (in the form of actual letters back and forth). Be sure to stick around until the end credits roll, as Zwick includes an actual news clip of then-Texas governor Rick Perry...
"Trial By Fire" premiered at last year's Telluride film festival to ho-hum reaction, and is now getting a limited theater release. The movie recently opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Monday Memorial Day early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (about 10 people), and I honestly can't see this playing very long in theaters. If you are in the mood for a death row drama os simply are a fan of Laura Dern or Robert Zwick, I encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater (not very likely), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.