It’s very timely that a film such as Trial By Fire should be released now, as it begs the question of how much control the government should have over our bodies and our lives. Trial By Fire discusses the polarizing topic of the death penalty through a true story of an innocent man on death row.
Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell) is a husband and father of three in Corsicana, Texas. His family is poor, with only his wife, Stacy (Emily Meade), having a job. Nor is Todd’s, as he prefers to be called, track record with local law enforcement all that stellar. Then tragedy strikes when the house catches on fire while his wife’s at work and everyone is asleep. He is unable to save his children. At first, his neighbors are very supportive of the Willinghams in their time of tragedy, but it doesn’t take long before the attitude of the townspeople changes.
“…on trial for murder and arson, which he maintains he didn’t do.”
Suddenly, Todd is on trial for murder and arson, which he maintains he didn’t do. His defense attorney is of no real assistance to him, and it appears that the District Attorney got witnesses to falsify testimony. Todd ends up on death row, and Stacy never comes to visit. Through an interesting turn of luck, Houston playwright Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern) starts corresponding with Todd. She then goes to visit him and believes he is innocent. She and a new lawyer race against the clock to find new evidence to corroborate Todd’s innocence. For Elizabeth, this means sacrificing time with her family.
Trial By Fire is an incredibly sad, harrowing movie. Things go badly for almost everyone involved and then some. Jack O’Connell portrays the fear and grief of a wrongfully accused prisoner in a way that seems as realistic as I would be familiar with personally. You really feel his turmoil over the combination of heading towards an unjust end and missing his family. Emily Meade, best known for playing Lori on The Deuce, is great as Stacy, a frustrating character that you can’t help but sympathize with. Then, of course, there is Laura Dern as Elizabeth Gilbert.