★★★★ | by Emma Levett
Posted on Apr 14, 2021
Cameron Willingham, an auto mechanic, is convicted of the vicious murder of his three young children. However, on scrutiny, an investigator challenges the circumstances and demands a fair trial.
Based on a true story, Trial by Fire gave us a devastating outlook of what it is like for an inmate on death row. Jack O’Connell is outstanding in this harrowing account of Cameron Todd Willingham, sentenced for the death of his three children in a supposed account of arson.
The beginning of the film is a great piece of drama, showing the one story house engulfed in flames and takes us through Cameron’s first re-collected accounts. The eye witness scenes are also very cleverly done, as this would become crucial in Cameron’s trial. Almost immediately after we gain an insight for the type of relationship Cameron and his soon to be ex-wife Stacy (Emily Meade) had before the tragedy. Full of jealously, violence and passion, which would discredit Cameron further down the line.
But to somebody who had no knowledge of this real life event, the first half of the film had no real steer and was a bit slow moving at times. Maybe this was due to the fact that evidence was seemingly pieced together randomly and witnesses were forced to give false testimonies in the real life event. However, I only had this realisation in the second half of the film with the appearance of Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) who started to break everything down for us. Laura Dern’s performance made for really pleasant viewing. A kind-hearted woman who becomes Cameron’s pen pal begins to review his case and realises that it was by no means a fair trial.
What I liked about a heroic character like Elizabeths, was that it was a controlled, kind and calm account for the convicted. It was emphasised that she had no opinion of innocence or guilt, just that the trial had not been fair, which brings a sense of maturity and intelligence to the film.
Overall, I thought this film was fantastic, the acting was brilliant and adds to the many lights that are now shining very bright on justice systems at present.
You Know Why They Call It Capital Punishment? You Got No Capital, You Get Punished – Ponchai