Meryl Streep is amazing.
Walking out of "A Cry in the Dark," I realized I had become totally lost in her performance and completely forgotten it was Meryl Streep I was watching. That's not a common occurrence for a cynical movie critic who sees everything. Streep truly is a chameleon.And that's meant as the highest of compliments. If Streep doesn't get an Oscar nomination for this one, there is no justice. But then, her Oscar nominations are an annual given, aren't they?
"A Cry in the Dark" is not an easy movie. It is shocking and uncompromising as it shows the terrible injustice suffered by Australians Lindy and Michael Chamberlain (Streep, Sam Neill) and their two young sons when she is accused of killing her baby daughter in the Outback while the family is on a camping vacation.
The story is probably too well-known at the moment, since Lindy Chamberlain's official exoneration came only two months ago and the story has been retold in the press many times since.
But that doesn't lessen the power of this film, since it also has something to say about the news media and its unrelenting coverage of the story, about gossiping - even on a national level - and how the justice system can sometimes do more harm with circumstantial evidence than good.
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The film begins with the family on vacation.One night, after the baby falls asleep, Lindy puts her to bed in the family's tent and rejoins her husband and some other campers.
When she hears the baby cry out, she immediately runs to the tent in time to see a dingo - a large, wild Australian dog - racing away. The baby is missing, there is blood everywhere and the entire campground becomes frantic.
They grab flashlights and comb the area; police arrive eventually and they go over the grounds again. But they find nothing for some time until some of the baby's clothing is discovered.
At first it is treated as a simple tragedy, though there are people who doubt that a dingo could actually pick up a 10-pound baby and spirit it away.
But eventually, as evidence begins to pile up that maybe a dog could not have committed this killing, Lindy is charged, goes through a horrendous trial and finally winds up in prison, where she gives birth to another child.
It wasn't until five years after the incident that it was proven a dingo likely did do the deed after all. And it wasn't until three years after that that Lindy was finally declared innocent.
Media perception has much to do with the presumed guilt of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, since they were Seventh-day Adventists, considered a religious cult by some, and since they kept their emotions in check while being interviewed on camera. If they had been more emotional or "normal," they might not have been judged so harshly, and yet what inner strength they must have had to stay together through all of this.
I don't think I've ever seen the media take a lashing in a movie as severe as the one given by "A Cry in the Dark" - and though this is the Australian media, it applies to reporting in America as well. It is shown matter-of-factly, as the Chamberlains experienced it rather than with preachy commentary, and so becomes all the more powerful.
As mentioned, Streep is astonishing. But equally good is Neill as her husband, who is as supportive as he can be but who eventually "cracks up" just before he has to take the stand, which, of course, doesn't help Lindy's case.
"A Cry in the Dark" is a disturbing, powerful, shattering movie you won't soon forget, and one you will probably be talking about for a long time to come.
"A Cry in the Dark" is rated PG-13 for mostly off-screen violence, profanity and fleeting nudity (a pregnant Streep in a shower).