The Accused

The Accused
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Screenplay: Tom Topor
Stars: Kelly McGillis (Kathryn Murphy), Jodie Foster (Sarah Tobias), Bernie Coulson (Ken Joyce), Leo Rossi (Cliff Albrect), Carmen Argenziano (D.A. Paul Rudolph), Ann Hearn (Sally Fraser), Steve Antin (Bob Joiner), Tom O'Brien (Larry)
MPAA Rating: R
Year of Release: 1988
Country: USA
The story in The Accused centers around a rape. There is no question that the rape took place in the backroom of a seedy bar called The Mill, an isolated place located in the shadow of a highway overpass. There is no question who the three rapists were, and there is no doubt about the extent of their guilt. What is in question, and what turns out to be the film's hinge, is who else is guilty.

Jodie Foster, in her first Oscar-winning performance, plays Sarah Tobias, the victim. Not the kind of girl you take home to mother, Sarah is low-class, which makes it a more difficult case for Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), the straight-laced, no-nonsense deputy district attorney prosecuting her case. Sarah lives in a trailer with her musician/drug dealer boyfriend (Tom O'Brien). She drinks too much "to take the edge off," smokes too much pot, and was dressed provocatively and was flirting openly on the night she was raped. None of that excuses the violence that was done to her by three men pinning her down on top of a pinball machine, but in the not-always pristine world of the criminal justice system, it only helps the case of the accused.

Because of this, Kathryn strikes a plea bargain, reducing the charge from rape to aggravated assault, which Sarah sees as a betrayal. Like others in the system, Kathryn is not at first particularly sympathetic to Sarah, her class biases clouding her ability to see the young woman as a true victim. In her own way, Kathryn slips into the mindset of her mostly male colleagues that, in one way or another, Sarah someone "asked for it." It is all the more distressing that Kathryn is a woman and should be more sympathetic to such situations, but you get the sense that she is too formulaic, too by-the-book to allow her emotions to get involved.

But, of course, they eventually do, and one of the major narrative developments in The Accused is Kathryn's slow awakening to the reality of Sarah's plight and the understanding that her plea bargain, which was struck largely to keep the record of one of the rapists, a rich college kid named Bob (Steve Antin), clear of a sexual offense, was indeed a betrayal, not only of Sarah in particular, but of all those who have suffered the violent indignity of a rape only to have the spotlight of blame pointed in their direction. So, Kathryn decides to prosecute three men who encouraged the rape by chanting, cheering, jeering, and otherwise goading the rapists into committing the act.

Charging them with criminal solicitation, Kathryn goes against the stern disapproval of the district attorney (Carmen Argenziano), who sees the case as a sure loser, and prosecutes, putting Sarah on the stand and finally allowing her to tell her story. However, Sarah's testimony is not enough to get the three men convicted, and Kathryn must track down another young college man, Ken Joyce (Bernie Coulson), who witnessed the whole event take place and was the only person to call 911. Ken is, in his own way, guilty by association-he is Bob's best friend and he watched the whole thing go down without lifting a finger-and it is his ultimate decision to testify in Sarah's behalf that redeems him.

Directed by Jonthan Kaplan (Over the Edge) and written by Tom Topor, a veteran reporter for The New York Post, The Accused has a slightly torrid made-for-TV feel to it (one of the most shocking things about it is that it doesn't have a "based on true events" disclaimer tagged to it anywhere), but is elevated by the superb performances and genuinely empathetic stance its takes. Granted, it is constructed largely to make the viewer feel good about him- or herself, as the villains are either low-class sleazeballs or spoiled rich-brat sleazeballs who are all too easy to demonize. However, because Sarah's character is more complicated, the film contains an element of challenge to the viewer.

Sarah's rape is not shown until the end of the film, when Ken testifies at the trial, and in some ways it is not as painful as the opening moments, which depict Sarah being shuffled through the medical system-examined, photographed, asked demeaning but necessary questions about her sexual history by trained professionals who know what to do, but don't show a whole lot of sympathy. When it comes time to depicting the rape, Kaplan doesn't hold back, and it is an extended, terrifying piece of work, forcing the viewer into the multiple positions of victim, victimizer, and onlooker.

Playing Sarah was Jodie Foster's transition role, moving from child actor to an adult (she had acted only sporadically during the mid-1980s while a student at Yale), and her searing performance is impressive. Sarah is not always easy to like, which complicates your reaction to the film-she's bitter, prone to sudden outbursts, and not terribly mature. Yet, as the film progresses, we begin to see some of that changing, despite the horrible circumstances, which says a great deal about her character.

Kelly McGillis was on a hot streak at this time, having played key roles opposite Harrison Ford in Witness (1985) and, of course, Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986). Her performance is somewhat flat here, but then she doesn't have nearly the role to play that Foster had. We don't know much about Kathryn, and her character arc is largely in response to Sarah. But, then again, it is ultimately the relationship between these two women that form the core of the film, as one gets better in touch with her heart while the other overcomes a tragedy to find herself a more mature woman.

The Accused DVD

Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
Languages English, French
Subtitles English
DistributorParamount Home Video
Release DateApril 16, 2002

1.85:1 (Anamorphic)
The Accused is presented in a clean new anamorphic transfer. The material looks just slightly dated in the manner of most movies from the 1980s, with slight traces of grain that give the image a nice film-like appearance. Colors are strong and well-saturated throughout, and there are only the slightest traces of nicks or other artifacts.

English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, 2.0 Surround, French 2.0 Stereo
The new Dolby Digital 5.1-channel surround mix is quite effective, especially as the score is heavily reliant on '80s-style electronic drum beats that reverberate throughout. Most of the soundtrack, which is primarily dialogue driven, is maintained on the front soundstage, while the surrounds are used primarily to open up the musical score and for a select few sound effects.

Theatrical Trailer
Presented in anamorphic widescreen.

Copyright © 2002 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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