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Movie Reviews

The Accused  

 The Accused(1988) VHS
Three men commit a brutal gang rape in a crowded bar, but because their victim has a reputation as a "party girl" the district attorney (Kelly McGillis) can only pursue minor charges against them. Jodie Foster earned an Academy Award for her role as a woman denied justice in this gripping, fact-based drama. 110 min.

The Accused was a fairly controversial film in its day (1988), dealing head-on with the subject of rape. As with many controversial films, this film received many accolades, including a Best Actress Oscar for Jodie Foster as the attack victim. The production has the air of a R-rated TV movie at times, but still delivers the goods as an issue-oriented picture.

Foster plays a woman who, at the film's start, runs screaming out of a redneck bar. She has been raped in the arcade room by three men, and, after going to the hospital for the routine examination, is assigned a lawyer to deal with her case. The trial of the rapists does not go as Foster hopes, as her lawyer and those of the rapists make deals which whittle the crime down to reckless endangerment, which means that they will serve five years, tops. You see, one of those poor rapists is a college man, and, of course, he can't let his future go down the tubes because of, oh, some silly rape he just decided to commit one day!

But this is not the end of our story: the real story begins as Foster is angered that her lawyer would dare compromise the real crime of being gang-raped, and would dare play the typical lawyer games without any consideration for how she feels about the crime. She storms her lawyer's dinner party to express that frustration, and after that feels forced to live her life with the knowledge that she has been wronged. Her anger finally explodes when she encounters the last person she wants to meet - a man who apparently egged the rapists on during that fateful evening. The scene brilliantly demonstrates the psychological assault some so-called tough guys like to play, as he first attempts to come across as a man foolish enough to hit on a girl at the parking lot, and then attempting to make her sound like a hypocrite for shying away from his advances even as she apparently gives bar crowds live sex shows. This man is one sick creep, and if Foster was able to finish the job that she started by ramming her car into his truck with him inside, I would have experienced one of the more justifiably entertaining scenes of violence in cinematic history. But it was not to be. 

Actually, we go back to the courtroom, as Foster's lawyer sees the error of her ways, and agrees to take the taunting spectators to court. Such tactics are unprecedented, creating intensity and urgency. The defendants, of course, attempt shoot holes all over this theory, first by claiming that Foster could not have seen, in all the confusion, who taunted the rapists, and later by saying that a spectator should not be punished. But merely watching is not the issue, but that of taunting the actual participants of the physical act of rape. If this were a "regular" case of physical injury, there would most likely be no question of where the criminal action lays. If a person basically tells another to beat or murder someone, then of course that person would be guilty of some sort of crime. But because we are dealing with rape, the accused play around with semantics and their own bloated ego, attempting to lessen the crime by saying that perhaps she wanted it (so someone would actually want to be gang-raped in public???) or that even if she didn't, she shouldn't go after people even if they contributed to an environment of oppression. I doubt you'd hear much of this at a standard assault trial. 

The movie as a whole moves along at an entertainingly melodramatic rate. The content and its presentation are straightforward, and a bit TV-movie-ish, and it is fairly clear how the story will turn out in the end. Most of the actors (including, as a detective, former MuchMusic VJ and host of the late CBC video program Good Rockin` Tonight Terry David Mulligan!!) are adequate but not amazing. What saves this picture from being too flat is Jodie Foster's performance. She really does sound like the kind of person she is playing: the hard-luck girl from the lower classes, not particularly educated, but going on sheer emotion. She is a very angry person, for obvious reasons, and feels cheated by the system's lack of concern for what they seem to feel is just another statistic. Crossed with her anger are her feelings of hopelessness and weakness, apparent in her first major speaking scene, in which she speaks as if every ounce of energy has been drained from her body. Foster is unwilling to paint the character as a complete saint, however, since the person is, after all, the kind of person who willingly goes to scummy redneck bars, and talk trash and other frivolous subjects to her friends. A very telling moment is when the lawyer, an obviously very high-class and tasteful woman, hears from Foster`s friend about the conversation the two had before the rape. The lawyer becomes upset, no doubt because Foster`s character's lack of upper-crust politeness and social graces could become a liability. No doubt the lawyer would find it so much easier if she were defending, say, one of the girls from the WB`s 7th Heaven.

The big question mark for some is apparently the infamous re-enactment of the sequences leading up to, and including, the rape. A number of sources, including the Leonard Maltin Video Guide, and writings from other critics, take much offense, saying that this scene is unnecessary, and too long. It is true that this sequence is not for the faint of heart. We see everything - all the nudity, agonising screams, forced intercourse, the sadistically orgasmic reactions of the men who rape her, etc., etc. To be fair, I am actually very surprised that the film got away untouched without getting an X rating slapped onto it (it would have trouble not receiving an NC-17 now, as well), considering that 9 ˝ Weeks, a vile, sanitized version of the raping and humiliation of a female character, had to be cut to get an R. The fact that The Accused survived intact, however, may have been a blessing in disguise, since this means that the movie is allowed to show to the audience what rape really is like. It is not some short little rinky-dink thing in which a woman just simply did not enjoy herself, but is an assault, much like any other severe assault. If you were drug into some enclosed space and beaten to a pulp, of course it would be horrible, and to be violated in other ways besides would even be more horrible. And to have many people participate in your degradation is even worse than that. And this scene rubs the viewer's face in it.

For me, the only really big question mark would be the conduct of Foster`s so-called friend, who actually dares to deny at first that there was anything really horrible going on, and then, when she is approached the second time, claims that those guys cannot be messed with. Some friend she is! Sure, many people are afraid of exposing themselves on the stand, but for a supposed friend, another woman, at that, to just pretend that her friend wasn't horribly raped is about as low as a friend could go. I'd feel very betrayed myself, but Foster does not seem to react much to her friend's behaviour. But maybe that is just a point to be made; that women (at least in the late eighties) were not confident enough to speak out in a world where (as the end titles state) a rape occurs every six minutes; where men feel like they have the right to possess and attack women, while the women are supposed to put up with it. But what this story means to say is that it does not have to be this way; that it is not a woman's place to have to put up with such assaults, or with the climate which spawns them. The Accused is not a masterpiece, but is a message film with a worthy message.

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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