Trial by Fire is a the saddest movie I’ve ever seen in my entire life. It’s based on the real-life sad and depressing story of a Texas man, Cameron Todd Willingham (played here Jack O’Connell), who was sent to death row for allegedly starting the house fire that resulted in the deaths of his three young daughters. While in prison, Willingham is befriended by writer and do-gooder Elizabeth Gilbert (Laura Dern), who tries to help him with an appeal to save his life.
This film hits the same outrage-with-the-system pressure points as Netflix’s Making a Murderer did a few years ago, and Making a Murderer is the only prestige series I’ve ever watched that, if given the chance, I would unsee, because it made me feel so irredeemably awful. So I want to warn the rest of you: Watching this film felt like having rocks thrown at my face. It’s effective filmmaking, I’ll give it that, and O’Connell’s performance as scumbag-turned-sympathetic-scumbag is one of the best I’ve seen. If you're ready for a gut-wrenching trip through some of the worst things around (the deaths of children, state-sanctioned murder, our failure of a justice system, Rick Perry), you can’t do better (or worse?) than this.