A CRY IN THE DARK (Fred Schepisi)
A CRY IN THE DARK is a perfect example of how pervasive the media can be, and how irresponsible it can become in pursuit of making the headlines.
When a trekking holiday up on Ayers Rock in Australia ends up in tragedy for couple Michael and Libby Chamberlain (played with full conviction by Sam Neill and Meryl Streep), a legal fiasco ensued and a media frenzy soon became a sensational serial. It’s bad enough that the couple lost their baby daughter to a dingo (insert Meryl’s famous line: “The dingo took my baby!); now they also have to deal with public reaction, bumbling cops, and the possibility of spending their lives in prison. And the fact that they also have to deal with their relationship as husband and wife and as a family is not yet included in this terrible ordeal.
Director Fred Schepisi masterfully crafts a suspenseful and momentous legal and moral playground that is also a harrowing picture of an Australian family in peril at the same time. What’s different from all other courtroom battle-themed films is that Schepisi includes the reactions of people to various stages of the eight-year exodus to justice. It’s like you are watching a real sensational case unfold on TV, and Schepisi manages to deconstruct said medium’s treatment of the Chamberlain case in factual manner.
A CRY IN THE DARK also presents a terrible case of bigotry during that time (the incident took place in the 80s) where the Chamberlains were readily identified as murderers because of a social stigma to religious differences. The Chamberlains were Seventh Day Adventists, and the people and the media conveniently tagged them as members of a cult, who killed their baby as a sacrifice.
While not one of the most recognized performances by the ever-captivating Streep, it is arguably her most resilient. People usually judge an artist’s gravitas and Oscar-worthiness based on how loud they can scream, or how mentally damaged their characters are. While I’m just realizing this now, it also takes talent to portray a character in a restrained manner, and Streep is such person who is always up for the job. Her Libby is complex and emotionally affecting.
Neill is also equally compelling. The Australian accent is natural (well he’s from New Zealand, after all) and his portrayal of Michael’s crumbling humanity is inspiring. You can see that Michael is more troubled than Libby, for Libby is determined and powerful and also compassionate. But Michael did not leave his wife’s side. He stayed through all the mud thrown at them by the media, by the prosecutors, and by their own countrymen. This has got to be one of Neill’s best performances on film.
If you are alien to the true story which inspired the movie (as is my case), the film also presents elements of doubt, where the audience will also question their notions of right and wrong, and truth and lies, and be forced to examine the details presented. This would go on until way in the end.
More than any other emotion, A CRY IN THE DARK had me feeling hatred for all the ignorant people who pass judgment without reason, who castigate their fellow human being without so much as a second thought, and for the reckless way media invades people’s lives. Mind you, irresponsible journalism is still practiced today. A CRY IN THE DARK will be the historical testament and reminder to that.