In 1999, Elizabeth Gilbert met a man named Cameron Todd Willingham, and it changed her life. Willingham was on death row, having been found guilty of murdering his three young children by arson.
But when the day finally came for Willingham to get his final death sentence, many people, like Gilbert, felt that he was actually innocent. 10 years after their initial meeting, a New Yorker article by David Grann, titled "Trial by Fire" powerfully laid out the the case and the ensuing doubt around the Willingham's final conviction and eventual death.
That story inspired the upcoming feature film by the same name, starring Jack O'Connell as Willingham, and Laura Dern as Gilbert. And based on an exclusive clip from the movie, which Refinery29 is debuting below, Trial by Fire will be a story of doubt, determination, and the quest for due diligence.
In this scene, Dern approaches one of Willingham's lawyers. After corresponding with him via letters, and later meeting him in person, Gilbert has taken on her new friend's case — she thinks he's innocent and she wants to prove it. (Throughout the trial and his time imprisoned, Willingham also maintained his innocence.) Gilbert wants help, and she wants answers. But all she gets is the typical throwaway line that many women get when they show resolve: "Don't let your emotions get the better of you."
"My emotions?," Dern as Gilbert asks, almost laughing. "What, because I am a woman?"
"That's not what I meant." the attorney replies, sheepishly. "Have sympathy for the man he's become, but don't forget about the man he was."
Without hesitation Gilbert turns on her heels and walks away, with a newfound spring in her step: "Okay, great! I'm gonna go finish your job for you."
A total mood.
Check out the clip below, and Trial by Fire in theaters May 17.