Trial by Fire

Critics Consensus

Trial by Fire has a worthy -- and heartbreaking -- story to tell, but this well-acted dramatization is undermined by its aggressively manipulative approach.

61%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 66

75%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 76

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Movie Info

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?

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Critic Reviews for Trial by Fire

All Critics (66) | Top Critics (17) | Fresh (40) | Rotten (26)

  • Powerful stuff, but unpowerfully told, in part because the energies in "Trial by Fire" are split between proving Todd Willingham's innocence and building an argument against the death penalty no matter what the verdict.

    May 24, 2019 | Rating: 1.5/4 | Full Review…

    Ty Burr

    Boston Globe
    Top Critic
  • It's a powerful enough viewing experience, but it doesn't leave you with much hope for what to do about injustice.

    May 23, 2019 | Full Review…
  • The movie is painstakingly well made and murderously hard to sit through.

    May 20, 2019 | Full Review…
  • There's that masterpiece of a micro-performance by Jeff Perry, in that single scene. That alone is worth the price of admission.

    May 17, 2019 | Rating: 3/4 | Full Review…
  • O'Connell and Dern, meanwhile, find the common ground in their characters that keeps "Trial by Fire" simmering.

    May 17, 2019 | Rating: B | Full Review…
  • The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative 'devices' tacked on.

    May 17, 2019 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

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