Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Mims'/Joe Bailey, Jr.'s INCENDIARY: THE WILLINGHAM CASE is that -- and more

TrustMovies had never heard of Cameron Todd Willingham prior to seeing this movie about him, his family and the case of supposed arson that put the man on the Texas map. Ah, Texas: Here is yet another movie (one more--Texas Killing Fields--will open next week) that makes you thrilled not be a citizen of the back-ward state that has managed to elect George W. Bush as its governor, offering the fool a platform to the Presidency -- and then the likes of the god-pushing, sleazebag supreme, Rick Perry. If INCENDIARY: THE WILLINGHAM CASE does nothing else (it does a damn lot more, actually), what our country will learn from the film (if any retention remains in the American people) should put the permanent kibosh on Perry's Presidential aspirations.

Don't imagine that this movie by Mr Bailey (above, left) and Mr. Mims (above, right) is a broadside. Though their attitude and feelings seem fairly clear-cut, they go out of their way to give the "opposing viewpoint" its day. And were that viewpoint not so horrifyingly stupid and brutal we might be able to accept it with less suspicion, for what the movie does, finally, is convince you that a terrible injustice was done in the state of Texas. Yet, instead of owning up and making things right, even posthumously for the defendant, the powers-that-be, led by Governor Perry, do their best/worst to see that right never rears its head.

What the filmmakers let us understand about the whole affair -- which, by the way, cracklingly combines politics, forensic investigation, justice, the death penalty and the rights of a defendant -- raises a bunch of questions, whose answers raise even more. We learn the history of Mr. Willingham (above, right) and his extended family; we see "politics" at work, both in open meetings and behind closed doors; and we meet a defense attorney, the likes of which no defendant should ever have to endure. This movie is incendiary, all right, and not simply because it deals with (and explains a hell of a lot about) fire and how the determination of arson is arrived at -- both in the recent past and today, under a more modern methodology.

The filmmakers and their camera manage to be in a lot of places over time and what they've captured is, for the most part, exem-plary. We hear from the best, most reliable sources in fire forensics field (one of whom is shown above, and another at the bottom of this post); see up-close and nasty the ex-wife of the defendant, who appears to be lying through her teeth; and see and hear, over and over again, that putrid defense attorney who manages, in the same breath, to invoke attorney/client privilege even as he tries to incriminate his late client. In some of the best scenes, such as the one shown below, we're flies on the wall at political meetings during which the push for transparency is consistently undermined by the man Rick Perry appointed to do his dirt.

You're likely to leave this documentary fuming. Should you suddenly burst into flame, let's hope you're not in Texas -- where they'd no doubt charge you with arson and stick you on death row.

Incendiary: The Willingham Case -- one of the best and most important documentaries so far this year -- (distributed via Truly Indie and Yokel) opens this Friday, October 7, in New York at the  IFC Center; on October 14 at The Magnolia in Dallas; on October 21 at the Bijou Cinema at The University of Iowa; and on November 18 at Laemmle's Fallbrook 7.

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