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Trial by Fire (2018)

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The tragic and controversial story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas for killing his three children after scientific evidence and expert testimony that bolstered his claims of innocence were suppressed.


Edward Zwick


Geoffrey Fletcher (screenplay by), David Grann (based on The New Yorker article by)
1,070 ( 553)



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Credited cast:
Laura Dern ... Elizabeth Gilbert
Jack O'Connell ... Cameron Todd Willingham
Emily Meade ... Stacy Willingham
Jade Pettyjohn ... Julie Gilbert
Tinsley Price ... Older Karmon
Carlos Gómez ... Fire Inspector
Jeff Perry ... Hurst
Chris Coy ... Daniels
Rhoda Griffis ... Darlene
Jason Douglas ... John H. Jackson
Anniston Price ... Older Kameron
Elle Graham ... Amber
Blair Bomar ... Sandy
Joshua Mikel
Darren Pettie ... Peter Horton


The tragic and controversial story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed in Texas for killing his three children after scientific evidence and expert testimony that bolstered his claims of innocence were suppressed.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Stand for What's Right, Fight for What's True.


Biography | Drama

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language throughout, some violence, disturbing images, sexual material and brief nudity | See all certifications »


Official Sites:

Official site





Release Date:

17 May 2019 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Trial by Fire See more »

Filming Locations:

Atlanta, Georgia, USA See more »


Box Office

Opening Weekend USA:

$78,712, 19 May 2019

Gross USA:

See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs



See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Hurst: What's Your sign?
Elizabeth Gilbert: Excuse Me?
Hurst: Under what sign of the zodiac were you born?
Elizabeth Gilbert: Aries
Hurst: And your horoscope, do you read it?
Elizabeth Gilbert: Sometimes, I guess.
Hurst: Sometimes It's right and sometimes its wrong
Elizabeth Gilbert: Well, all that stuff is just...
Hurst: People have always been fascinated by the stars, they chartered their movements. They could tell when Mercury was retrograde or when Mars was aligned with Venus. They made predictions based on these observations. These people were called Astrologers. They were the experts on the Solar ...
See more »


Referenced in Talking Dead: Do Not Send Us Astray (2018) See more »

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User Reviews

Well intended death row drama is too obvious
28 May 2019 | by paul-allaerSee all my reviews

(I am surprised that Amazon doesn't have a listing of this yet as a future DVD release, as it usually does for movies currently playing in theaters. But to be clear, this is a review of the MOVIE, not of the movie's poster.)

"Trial By Fire" (2018 release; 127 min.) brings the story of "baby killer" Todd Willingham. As the movie opens, it is "December 23, 1991, Corsicana, TX", as we see a guy just barely escaping a burning house and screaming "my babies are burning!". Turns out his three young daughters were still inside the house, and perished. T's not long before the Corsicana police and fire department start looking into the matter, and conclude that the guy started an arson, and before we know it, Todd, refusing to take a plea bargain, is convicted and sentenced to death... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie, and you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from producer-director Edward Zwick. Here he takes on the notorious case of the Texas Baby killer. It is a death row drama that is well intended (exposing social injustice), but alas is brought with the subtlety of a bull in a china store: "this is capital punishment: if you ain't got no capital, you'll get punished", comments an inmate at some point. This may well be true, but the movie bashes your head with this message over and over (cops: BAD, every single one of them! Texas judicial system: crooked through and through! in every single case!), and it simply becomes a tiring viewing experience. Laura Dern appears 45 min. into the movie as the well-meaning woman who (for reasons never explained) decides to take up correspondence with Todd (in the form of actual letters back and forth). Be sure to stick around until the end credits roll, as Zwick includes an actual news clip of then-Texas governor Rick Perry...

"Trial By Fire" premiered at last year's Telluride film festival to ho-hum reaction, and is now getting a limited theater release. The movie recently opened at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati. The Monday Memorial Day early evening screening where I saw this at was attended so-so (about 10 people), and I honestly can't see this playing very long in theaters. If you are in the mood for a death row drama os simply are a fan of Laura Dern or Robert Zwick, I encourage you to check this out, be it in the theater (not very likely), on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.

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