The Accused (1988)
Top Gun McGillis Represents Foster Victim
What the hell are you talking about? You saw me at the hospital, what you think I asked for that? - Sarah Tobias
No matter how you say it rape is not a pleasant word neither is the subject of rape so it takes a brave producer, director and actress to tackle such a disturbing and unpleasant subject on the big screen. "The Accused" is one such movie which tackles the subject delving into how a rape victim is treated by the system where it questions whether they were to be blamed for the rape, were they a willing participant, did they encourage the act through the way they dressed, behaved and so on and in doing so making you realise that despite being violated once they are violated again by the system which tries to twist the facts.
Having been gang raped by three men in a local bar, Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster - Bugsy Malone) wants those who brutally violated her brought to justice. But deputy district attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis - Top Gun) struggles with her case deciding that although she believes Sarah was raped doesn't believe it will stick in court and accepts a plea bargain. But feeling guilty for betraying Sarah, Kathryn then decides to go after the men who cheered, clapped and cajoled the three men into raping Sarah, something which had never been done before.
"The Accused" starts off in a hard hitting manner as we watch Sarah Tobias running screaming from the bar where she'd just been raped and what follows is a very frank look at what happens next. In the hospital we see the bruises that cover her body and watch how clinically she is assessed and questioned about the rape as well as her sex life prior to the violation. It's a hard hitting combination of scenes which sets the pace of what is to follow as it moves on to the legal side of things. In fact "The Accused" concentrates more on the legal sides of things venturing into the grounds of a court room drama as we watch deputy district attorney Kathryn Murphy tackle the case.
It's frankly eye opening and brings into question the way the system works as plea bargains and character references all come in to play. But as such it is compelling stuff as Kathryn having let Sarah down once by agreeing to a plea bargain over the rape then decides to go after those who cheered and cajoled the men on into raping her. Of course this culminates with a big court room climax as we watch both the prosecution and defence go to work on those in the witness stand and this is where "The Accused" really excels delivering the heightened drama with realism in equal measures.
That is one of the things that I like about "The Accused", it takes a hard hitting subject and instead of going for sensationalist scenes or big over dramatic speeches it keeps it feeling real, almost in a nasty way. When the lawyers for the men accused try to twist things to make Sarah come across as a willing participant, as if it was her fault, you get a real sense of how nasty and wrong the system is.
Even when one of the witnesses recounts what they saw, and we get to see the rape scene, it's not sensationalist, it's a rape scene which feels real, nasty, ugly and disgusting as we watch the men violate Sarah in such a brutal manner. In fact it's so hard hitting and disturbing it's hard to watch, it makes you feel uncomfortable as if you are there watching in that room, one of the crowd and failing to do anything about it, guilty of a crime as well.
Part of the reason why "The Accused" works are the performances and characters. Jodie Foster is sublime as Sarah Tobias making her character multi levelled giving it a sort of naivety, a bit of fragility yet also strong. It's not only fascinating watching the way Sarah just tries to get on with her life following the rape but also at the way she feels betrayed by Kathryn when she accepts the plea bargain believing that Sarah wouldn't be a strong or believable witness. Foster creates a character so believable that you feel for her and you wonder how much filming those actual rape scenes affected her because they are frighteningly real.
Alongside Foster is Kelly McGillis who on one level delivers an almost stereotypical character as the deputy district attorney almost heartless in the way she is willing to plea bargain because she can't win yet develops the character into something more as she takes up the fight again. It makes a bond form between Kathryn and Sarah, an unlikely friendship which again feels real. That is the key thing everything about the characters from Sarah and Kathryn through to witness such as Ken and Sally as well as the perpetrators of the rape, they feel real.
There are a few issues such as the way Kathryn manages to get the name of a crucial witness so easily off of an arcade machine in the bar which makes it feel at times a little contrived. But these issues are few and far between never impacting on the dramatic, hard hitting emotional aspect of the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "The Accused" is a truly stunning and compelling movie which tackles the disturbing subject of rape and how the system treats rape victims. With such a hard hitting subject it never once goes for over sensationalizing it, instead delivering an uneasy sense of realism which with the aid of brilliant performances from Jodie Foster and Kelly McGillis makes for an unsettling but worth while experience.
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