A Cry In The Dark

A CRY IN THE DARK brought Meryl Streep her 8th Oscar nomination for her uncompromising portrayal of a traumatized mother who loses her infant in a bizarre and gruesome manner. Applause is due her fine work (another victim of foul circumstance, Jodie Foster’s The Accused, took home the trophy), but more importantly the 1988 drama helped bring some measure of public realization about how the woman in question, and her husband, were cruelly stigmatized, both systematically and casually, by clumsily applied law, a blatantly invasive media and a wide section of an ill-informed public. *

A lie goes ’round the world while truth’s still putting its boots on, sweetheart.

Australia, 1980. Michael Chamberlain (Sam Neill) and his wife Lindy (Streep) take their two young boys and baby girl on a camping vacation to Ayers Rock/Uluru. During an evening barbecue with fellow campers, Lindy puts the baby to bed in their tent. Just as she rejoins the others, a cry is heard: Lindy sees one of the local dingoes bolt from the tent and dash off into the darkness. With the baby. A frantic search proves fruitless, then tragedy is compounded by farce—the unfunny type– when the unusual nature of the event and circumstantial evidence have authorities, goaded by salacious media, charge the parents with fabricating the wild dog tale and murdering their own child. The resulting trial seizes the attention of the nation; everyone picks a side.

Directed by Fred Schepisi, sharing screenplay duty with Robert Carswell, basing off the non-fiction book “Evil Angels”, written by John Bryson: in Australia and New Zealand the film was released under that title. Making the story more compelling is that, while the couple are caught up in a vicious maelstrom that would crush most of us, they’re not especially sympathetic characters. In real-life, that didn’t help their perception in public, and it makes a line-walking challenge for Streep and Neill, who handle it beautifully. What Schepisi’s direction and the script does particularly well is the layering in of dozens of pro & con observations on the couple and trial from Australians of every strata of the society.

Made for $15,000,000, it didn’t fare as well Down Under as hoped, and only came to spot #110 in the States, where it grossed just $6,909,000. With Bruce Myles, Neil Fitzpatrick, Charles Tingwell, Maurie Fields, Nick Tate. 121 minutes.

 * Sorry, ye multitudes who’ve had decades of fun goofing around with “A dingo ate my baby!”, but Meryl never said that: her actual line was “The dingo’s got my baby!” 

Keeping company with the beleaguered Chamberlain’s that year were other real-life-based dramas about justice in flux: Mississippi Burning, The Accused, Tucker: The Man And His Dream, The Thin Blue Line, Eight Men Out.

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