Our look at Meryl Streep’s extensive resume of classic performances isn’t slowing down. In “A Cry in the Dark” (1988), this modern-day nightmare from Australia – based upon a true story – captures a family’s unthinkable grief. In the process, Streep earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination.
(To read other Streep films examined this week, you can link to my reviews of “The Bridges of Madison County” (1995) and “Silkwood” (1983))
“A Cry in the Dark” (1988) 4 / 5 stars – Although the general public (and admittedly, me included) has always found scandalous court cases fascinating, ever since the O.J. Simpson trial in the mid-1990s, explosive legal battles have become routine and sensationalized fodder for many media outlets in the United States.
Newspapers, magazines, the blogosphere, and television – including 24-hour TV news and a dedicated channel devoted to the judicial system – have egregiously fed the public’s desire for scrutiny and gossip amid tragic circumstances in our nation’s courthouses.
In many respects, treating these cases as the “top stories of the day” is especially disturbing during a time when our soldiers fight overseas, the housing market crash nearly crippled the economy, 50 million Americans continue to live without health insurance, and a runaway national debt spooks nearly everyone.
Alas, much of the public (again, me included) loves a good scandal, and long before anyone ever heard of JonBenet Ramsey, in 1980 – halfway around the world in Australia – Lindy and Michael Chamberlain’s (Meryl Streep and Sam Neill) baby daughter was killed by a dingo.
On a camping trip near Mount Isa in Queensland, a dingo – which resembles a large fox or a more domesticated coyote – grabbed the Chamberlain’s daughter, little Azaria, out of her tent and quickly scampered away without a trace.
At the campsite, the other families shared the Chamberlains’ emotional shock, and despite huge searches by dozens (if not hundreds) of people, Azaria was not found.
Devastated and consumed with grief, Lindy and Michael try to come to terms with this tragedy, and the press quickly jumps on this horrific nightmare.
Soon the story consumes the continent’s population, and for unknown reasons (or more likely, because of human nature), Australians find themselves split.
Some believe Lindy’s and Michael’s story, but others feel the couple killed their baby girl, so the Chamberlains become caught in a tumultuous legal and public relations nightmare.
Director Fred Schepisi delivers an engrossing picture which is well-paced among the real-life twists and turns.
He needs to take on a slew of angles, including the crime investigation, the onslaught by the press, public reaction, the dreadful event at Mount Isa, and most importantly, Lindy’s and Michael’s internal strife.
Schepisi handles all of these moving parts with care, and Streep and Neill offer heartfelt and complicated performances in which you’ll want to reach out take away their pain.
Streep, in particular, is extremely good, as she tries to balance Lindy’s dignity while she mires in anguish over the loss of her child amid sinister accusations.
The Academy recognized Streep’s work with a Best Actress Oscar nomination, and her performance clearly pulled me into Lindy Chamberlain’s world.
As the tears rolled down my face, I can only imagine the pain she (and Michael) must have felt.
Then again, I do not want to imagine.
“A Cry in the Dark” is rated PG-13 and is available on DVD.
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