Sunday, May 20, 2018

Evil Angels

Another recent viewing off my DVR was A Cry in the Dark, which was released in Australia (where it was made) as Evil Angels. This is one of those odd movies that seems to be available on DVD (and in print) at Amazon, and also available on streaming video

A Cry in the Dark tells the story of the family of Azaria Chamberlain. Azaria's father Michael (Sam Neill) was a Seventh-Day Adventist minister in Queensland, Australia, living with his wife Lindy (Meryl Streep borrowing the wig Robert Wagner wore in Prince Valiant), their two sons, and infant daughter Azaria in 1980. The family goes for a vacation to Ayers Rock, and we see in a bit of foreshadowing as the film shows us a dingo looking down on everybody that the Outback can be a dangerous place.

At night, Lindy and Mike are talking with some of the other campers assembled at the popular tourist spot, when Lindy decides to go back into the tent, only to discover that the baby is missing. Lindy then sees a dingo darting off into the night, so she reaches the obvious conclusion: "The dingo took my baby!", a line that has been parodied ever since. A large search is conducted, and eventually all that's found is a bloody onesie; a jacket Azaria had on over it isn't found, which will be important later in the story.

The family eventually goes home to suffer the death of their baby alone, except that the incident has become a national case. The Chamberlains are weirdo Seventh-Day Adventists, after all, and their faith in God means that they don't show the sort of repulsive emotion that the media engendered after Princess Diana died because she was too stupid to wear a seat belt. So the media decide to start a campaign against her, but for a while the law is on the Chamberlains' side. The coroners' inquest backs up the Chamberlains' story that the baby was most likely taken by a dingo, and the judge presiding has a blistering attack on the media's handling of the case.

Somewhere along the way, however, the Chamberlains must have made some powerful enemies, because the authorities decide to reopen the case based on circumstantial forensic evidence, allowing the media to resume their Two Minutes' Hate against the Chamberlains as Lindy is put on trial for murdering Azaria. The amount of prosecutorial grandstanding during the trial is also shocking. All of this also puts a huge strain on Michael and Lindy's marriage. (They divorced in 1991, a few years after the film was released.)

A Cry in the Dark is an excellent study in the media circus that forms around prominent events and how mob mentality can doom people. It's helped in part by being based on a real case, and in part on using more of a docudrama style of filming than what had been done back in the Hollywood studio days. Films like Spencer Tracy's Fury are well-made looks at the same sort of mob mentality that surrounded the Chamberlain case, but they, and even a relevant Fox docudrama from the 1940s like Boomerang! seem to be too Hollywood-bound. A Cry in the Dark has an ugly underside that's needed to make the movie work.

It's also a big plus that the two leads, Streep and Neill, both give excellent performances in difficult roles. Streep has a difficult task, both in seeming emotionless and then having to stand up for herself when both her husband and her attorneys are trying to get her to act in a stereotypical way. Neill's character has to break down on the stand, not in a crying way, but in a way that he's not mentally able to handle questioning that's designed to be deliberately confusing and catch him in a trap. This too is a difficult portrayal that Neill pulls off well.

A Cry in the Dark is strongly recommended.


Anonymous said...

Correct quote is "the dingo's got my baby"

Brian Tristam Williams said...

Can confirm.