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Cry in the Dark, A (1988)
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by Isobel Sharp

"Never send a dingo to do a reporter's job."
4 stars

Based on a true event, this film tells the story of a woman wrongly tried for her child's murder, and how she and her family deal with this tragedy. But on another level, this film is about the way the media and popular opinion can affect the outcome of a criminal trial, and how difficult it can be for the truth to be seen by people who have already decided the way the story goes. Pay attention not just to the main plot, but the many intercut scenes of regular people gossiping and giving their own views of 'what must have happened' - any one scene is short, but taken as a whole they really tell their own story.

At the end of a long day of exploration during a camping trip to Ayers Rock, Australia, Lindy Chamberlain (Meryl Streep) lay her young daughter Azaria down for the night in their tent, and went out to join her husband at the barbecue. Not very long afterwards, a baby's cry drew Lindy's attention; returning to the tent, she was shocked to see a dingo, carrying something in its mouth, running out of the tent. Azaria Chamberlain was gone, leaving only some bloody spots behind her. Immediately, a search was formed for the baby, and a number of people at the campground set out with lights to look for Azaria. It was soon clear, however, that the baby was gone, carried too far away to be found, and by dawn the parents had come to the grim realization that they would probably never see their daughter again.

It's a relatively simple, if tragic, story - a horrible accident that nobody expected could happen, but no more than that. However, this is not the end of the story for the Chamberlain family. Driven by the belief that a dingo could never carry away an 18-month-old child, and supported by poor police work at Ayers Rock, the police soon begin to investigate Lindy herself. A number of stupid police mistakes and 'expert' opinions support these investigations, and lead the police to Lindy by a very convoluted route. When the baby clothes are found, for example, they are picked up by a policeman before they are photographed; in his effort to make his tampering with the scene all right, the officer says he'll "put them back nicely", and does - making them look less like something pulled off by a dingo, and more like evidence hidden by a guilty mother. The number of people searching the scene that night completely obscure any dingo tracks, and an expert says the holes in the baby clothes could not have been caused by teeth, but by a sharp cutting edge.

The police bring behind them a cloud of media, and this is where Lindy's trial really begins. Though she is clearly distraught over the loss of her daughter, this comes across mainly when she is speaking to one or two people; in public, she tries to keep a rigid control over her emotions which leads to her looking coldhearted and clinical. Shown in contrast to her husband, easily befuddled by too much attention, she appears dominating. She also has a certain naiveté about the media; after an early interview which Lindy gives 'just to make the facts known', her husband Michael (Sam Neill) takes her to task for being used by the press. Lindy is appalled - she simply wants everyone to hear the truth, not just the rumors that have spread since Azaria disappeared.

And rumors there are, from reasonable to outlandish. Some people seem unwilling to believe that a dingo would steal a baby; others see Lindy as an obvious killer, as she discusses her daughter's death without tears. Others have a more sensational take on the death - Lindy, a Seventh-Day Adventist, had killed her baby in a ritual murder, and the name Azaria really meant 'sacrifice in the desert'. The rumors are propelled by the media, who seem to revel in presenting every possible 'fact' to the public, and, as shown during the trial scenes, are rooting for Lindy's conviction.

The trial is where the film falls down a bit. There is a lot of clinical evidence to be examined; experts have varying opinions, the police have differing reports. It's a very complicated case, difficult to show in the time allotted, and frankly difficult to show without being boring. The film chooses to streamline these scenes, which makes it hard to understand exactly what's going on. Clearly, some bits of evidence seem to be critical, but why that is so, or what they prove, is not always clear.

Despite this weakness, the film is a good one. Streep gives her usual excellent performance, here showing us a Lindy who has an insurmountable will to Get Through It - no matter what happens. Neill makes a good contrast to Streep; his Michael is confused by the crazy turn his life has taken, and seeks nothing more than to make things go back the way they were. Together, they show a marriage in crisis, broken not only by the horrible loss of their child, but by the subsequent trial and eventual conviction of Lindy.

After the trial, public opinion begins to swing back around to Lindy, and the press covers her eventual exoneration with the same enthusiasm they did her conviction. It's interesting to watch the dynamic between the public and the press, and to follow the story as 'real people' talk about it. This makes the film more than just the story of one family, but shows how, once something comes into the public realm, it can be shaped and controlled by the public in complex ways.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4911&reviewer=291
originally posted: 01/26/02 20:49:53
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User Comments

3/02/08 Anne Zollner How quickly friends & Australians turned on her. Can't stop thinking about movie. 5 stars
4/12/07 J.T such a bad film, DONT'T WATCH!!! 1 stars
7/14/05 ally so sad 5 stars
1/03/05 jeff schuler i just saw the movie, and what bothered me is how they found her guilty. 4 stars
9/23/04 h l 5 stars
3/03/04 R.W. Welch Incisive portrayal of how sensational trials get out of hand. Neatly done. 4 stars
1/20/04 Betty White Streep is solid, but not especially convincing in this silly melodrama. 2 stars
11/06/03 GOD The Biggest Piece of Crap Ive ever seen. 1 stars
7/18/03 Abhishek Blood Curlingly Shocking in its depiction of 'democratic' injustice 5 stars
5/06/03 Kate Please stop blaming Australians for Lindy's tragedy may I remind you Yanks of Rubin Carter? 5 stars
4/08/03 Mohamad Faisal Phenomenal and tastefully done. Exceptional beauty displayed through the storytelling 5 stars
3/18/03 Jack Sommersby A timely expose on media "ehtics". Faultlessly acted and directed. One of 1988's best. 5 stars
3/07/03 Nicholas Meryl Streep at her best!! 5 stars
1/20/03 bill Meryl Streep, what more needs to be said.. documentary style cut-ins are very effective 5 stars
12/16/02 Kathy Lukins Makes you sad to see how the media can attack like a "pack of hungry dogs." 4 stars
12/03/02 lara smith boring 2 stars
11/22/02 Carol Interesting and informative 4 stars
10/24/02 Ken Hall Public opinion fuelled by typical Aussie drunks ruined somebody's life. Shame on the Aussie 5 stars
10/08/02 Britney Tailor The most awesome movie ever! 5 stars
8/19/02 Gerard Burgess a great insight into what the media really made the nation think. 4 stars
8/15/02 I Can't Swim By 700 light years, Streep is better than anyone I've ever seen. I said ever. 5 stars
7/08/02 fdddgfdg hgfhgfhhg 5 stars
4/02/02 mary The best movie I have ever seen(Meryl Streep is awesome and the best actress ever) 5 stars
3/25/02 betty young ok 3 stars
3/25/02 bombombom paint is fun to eat. you noticed im wearing new socks! 1 stars
3/05/02 Ashley Corpening Riveting! None so egregiously robbed of Oscar as Meryl Streep in this. 5 stars
2/27/02 Kim Murphy This is an excellent film, it is thought provoking and shows support for the Chamberlainsq 4 stars
2/24/02 Viv this film is very good. 4 stars
6/14/01 Bada Bing Crosby Streep is the greatest there is or will ever be; I am amazed by her talent 5 stars
2/22/01 maik role 5 stars
2/11/01 Richard Wright I have to be the first to review this!! Fantastic acting,moving story-one of my favourites. 5 stars
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  04-Nov-1988 (PG-13)


  04-Nov-1988 (M)

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