Storytelling takes a back seat to the issue of the death penalty in this true-life story of a father (Jack O’Connell) wrongfully accused of setting fire to his three children. Just because life offers up cliches doesn’t mean a director has to play them as such. No stranger to television and movies, Emmy and Oscar-award winning director Ed Zwick straddles the fence by paying passing homage to both mediums. With David Grann’s New Yorker article to guide them, Zwick and screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher work quickly to whittle away at what could have amounted to lengthy courtroom proceedings, but that’s not enough to earn applause. It’s only in terms of performance that Trial By Fire ignites the screen. We expect greatness from Laura Dern, and she delivers. It’s Emily Meade who deserves top acting honors. As the grieving mother, I believe every word of Meade’s bullshit-free performance. There’s an authenticity in her, such that she can’t help but hammer home her husband’s innocence. (2019) — Scott Marks
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