Play It Again – A Cry in the Dark

Play It Again – A Cry in the Dark. Starring Meryl Streep, Sam Neill, and Charles ‘Bud’ Tingwell. Directed by Fred Schepisi. Rated M. By Jess Lomas.

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

This month, we’re embarking on a Meryl marathon!

“The dingo’s got my baby!” has long since moved from the words of a distraught mother to become part of Australia’s national identity and language. Fred Schepisi’s 1988 film A Cry in the Dark (also known as Evil Angels), dramatises the true story of Lindy and Michael Chamberlain’s fight to prove their innocence after the disappearance of their daughter Azaria during a camping trip at Ayers Rock.

It’d be easy to write this movie off without having seen it, what with the oversaturation of the topic and the shonky cover artwork; I have long since avoided this two-hour retelling of an event many of us know in great detail. The picture was released mere months after Lindy was freed from prison and the Chamberlains were absolved of all charges, but the feature takes on new meaning in light of a ruling this year, which confirmed Azaria was killed by a dingo in August 1980.

Meryl Streep earned her first Australian Film Institute award for Best Actress in a Lead Role for portraying the tough-skinned Lindy Chamberlain. A Cry in the Dark also took out Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor for Sam Neill, who plays Michael Chamberlain, and Best Adapted Screenplay, based as it is on John Bryson’s book. Streep’s performance is undeniably the anchor of the film, also earning her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Her masterful control of the Australian accent and portrayal of a hard-edged and much-maligned woman is arresting, making this a must-see.

As the story is so well known, Schepisi shows the abduction almost immediately and focuses the remainder of the flick on the media misrepresentation during the trials, the slander and hearsay on the streets of Australia, and of the stresses put on the Chamberlain’s marriage. While the employment of clips of “everyday Australians” discussing the case does become laughable, it also contributes to this becoming a wonderful time capsule. A Cry in the Dark wades into made for television territory at times but is saved by a cast of great performances, with Streep headlining.

Next week: Simon ventures Out of Africa.

A Cry in the Dark is available via Quickflix streaming.

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