Trial by Fire

Roger Ebert - 05-17


Ten years ago, David Grann's article "Trial by Fire" appeared in the New Yorker, with the subhead: "Did Texas execute an innocent man?" Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for murdering his three children by arson in 1991. Grann painstakingly digs through the shoddy investigation, the rushed trial, Willingham's appeals (Willingham never pled guilty), and makes the case that yes, Texas executed an innocent man, and Texas knew it executed an innocent man. Just reading the article is enough to make your blood boil. Edward Zwick's film "Trial by Fire", starring Jack O'Connell as Willingham and Laura Dern as Elizabeth Gilbert, the playwright who took an interest in Willingham's case, is a blistering polemic, even though Zwick's approach is pretty workmanlike. The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.