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Published On: Wed, May 15th, 2019

‘Trial By Fire’ Review: A father falsely executed is the theme of this Cameron Todd Willingham story

Trial by Fire is the latest movie from Academy Award winning director Edward Zwick (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, Blood Diamond).

The movie brings us to the small Texas town of Corsicana on December 23, 1991. It opens with Cameron Todd Willingham played by Jack O’Connell (Unbroken, Godless) waking to his daughter Amber yelling “Daddy, Daddy!” then we see the devastating fire that takes the lives of his three children.

From all indications it looks like a father that tried to save his children unsuccessfully and is grieving as the firefighters arrive. Next, we see the fire investigators walking through the house already convinced it was arson. Willingham and his wife Stacy played by Emily Meade (The Deuce, Nerve) are brought it to give a statement and you can feel the tension in the room between the husband and wife.

The second act brings us to Willingham being arrested and from this point forward we see the stereotypical small-town justice system at work except in the back of our minds we know this is a true story and for me the frustration starts. We see the prosecution bringing witnesses and “experts” as well as a cellmate (Blake Lewis) that testifies to Willingham’s confession of guilt. The defense lawyer doesn’t challenge any of the evidence and the conviction is quick and the penalty is death.

Fast forward a few years and we see Elizabeth Gilbert played by Laura Dern (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Downsizing), who is dealing with her own grief as her ex-husband is dying from cancer, become a pen pal to Willingham. As they get to know each other, she starts to research his case and finds numerous discrepancies between the initial statements and the actual court testimonies. From here to the end of the movie it’s a race to beat the death sentence. It’s frustrating in the sense that you keep thinking there is something not being said as to why everyone seems to want Willingham dead.

I must mention the great dynamic between O’Connell and the prison guard Daniels played by Chris Coy (Castle Rock, The Deuce). We get to see this relationship go from the hardened prison guard with nothing but contempt for Willingham to eventually becoming friendly and supportive. The growth was subtle, and we see a very emotional Daniels at the execution. The movie uses its platform to bring light on the large number of executions in Texas as well as the Capital Punishment argument regarding the falsely accused being executed.

I would give this a solid 3 ½ out of 5 stars.

About the Author

- Rob Weidow – Robert has been a comic book and movie enthusiast for over 40 years and enjoys the opportunity to share this publicly. His primary work is with web-based software implementations but enjoys spending his free time with his wife and children in Brandon, Florida. To Contact Rob email [email protected] ATTN: ROB

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