Trial By Fire trailer

Over the past thirty years, Edward Zwick has directed several movies that were based on true stories – Glory, Defiance, Pawn Sacrifice – and now he’s adding one more to his resume. Trial By Fire is his latest drama, and this one stars Laura Dern (Jurassic Park, Blue Velvet, Big Little Lies) as a Texas woman who, in the early 2000s, uncovers some sketchy methodology surrounding a man convicted for capital murder. Can she help save his life?

Trial By Fire Trailer

Jack O’Connell, the English actor with credits on Skins, Harry Brown, Starred Up, ’71, and Unbroken, plays Cameron Todd Willingham, a man who was convicted of murdering his own children in the early 1990s. Dern plays Houston resident Elizabeth Gilbert (not the Eat Pray Love and Coyote Ugly author), a radio DJ who begins to discover that the circumstances around his case are not nearly as cut and dried as the prosecution presented them.

Our popular culture is right in the middle of a full-blown obsession with true crime, so this movie certainly fits in with that. (HBO recently finished airing their four-part docuseries The Case Against Adnan Syed, which also looked back at a true story and tried to uncover some sketchy methods involving that conviction.) But on a stylistic level, Trial By Fire looks and feels like something right out of the 1990s – including the godawful CGI fire effects, which are some of the worst I’ve ever seen in a trailer for a major motion picture. (I know it’s serious subject matter, but look at the fire in the window at the :43 mark. Yikes.) Still, we’re hopeful that the performances make this one worth watching.

Fair warning: if you don’t know how the real-life story turned out, do not read this official synopsis, because it actively spoils the conclusion of the case.

Trial by Fire is the true-life Texas story of the unlikely bond between an imprisoned death row inmate (Jack O’Connell) and a mother of two from Houston (Laura Dern) who, though facing staggering odds, fights mightily for his freedom. Cameron Todd Willingham, a poor, uneducated heavy metal devotee with a violent streak and a criminal record, is convicted of arson-related triple homicide in 1992. During his 12 years on death row, Elizabeth Gilbert, an improbable ally, uncovers questionable methods and illogical conclusions in his case, and battles with the state to expose suppressed evidence that could save him. Her efforts ultimately fail, and since Willingham’s execution, the disturbing question remains: Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Trial By Fire arrives in select theaters on May 17, 2019.

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