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The Accused
USA 1988
Directed by Jonathan Kaplan
Running time 110 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingwa
3.5 stars


The Accused was one of the first Hollywood films to tackle “feminist” issues and a highly sensitive one at that - the subject of women who, from a male perspective, "ask for it". Although it was written and directed by men (Tom Topor and Jonathan Kaplan respectively) it is a potent condemnation of the entrenched machismo of mainstream American culture with its varied permutations of the union between sex and violence.

Jodie Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a working class single woman who could easily pass as trailer trash. One evening while out for a good time in a local dive she is raped by three men when things get out of hand. Sarah wants to prosecute them but the assistant district attorney who is handling her case, Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), doubting her ability to get a conviction, brokers a reduced plea of “reckless endangerment”.  Sarah feels betrayed and when she ends up in hospital as a result of Kathryn’s cavalier decision, the repentant lawyer realizes that she might be able to get justice for Sarah by prosecuting the men who watched and abetted the rape.

There are few types of film as satisfying as a good legal drama. The genre typically provides a David and Goliath battle, the thrills of a candle-burning investigation with dead-ends, disappointments and an 11th hour turn around that snatches victory from the jaws of defeat, all combined with a sturdy claim to the moral high-ground.  The Accused gives us all this in a deft script by Topor that unfolds the events and humanizes them within the context of the developing relationship between the two women as Kathryn gradually comes to appreciate and understand Sarah’s humanity.  

Foster who won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance makes this easy to do because her Sarah is clearly more than her self-and societally-imposed limitations allow here to be.  Of course, there is an inevitable cinematic gloss here but Kaplan keeps a tight rein on the sentimentality and the film remains credible with the rape scene itself handled with unflinching conviction.  

On the downside there’s the impossible-to-look-away from 80s fashion including an over-bearing synth-pop soundtrack but there’s enough substance here to make such things withstandable.

 

 

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