The Accused
Paramount // R // $24.99 // April 16, 2002
Review by D.K. Holm | posted April 23, 2002
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The Movie:

The Accused is the other film for which Jodie Foster won an Oscar. Little regarded now, this courtroom drama is from the Stanley Kramer school of Concerned Filmmaking, with a distinctly feminist, perhaps even man hating, bent. Foster earned the Oscar because she yells a lot, says the F word with profound vehemence, and dressed "down" for the role with heavy make-up, denim suits, and mall shoes (and she was up against Glenn Close, Melanie Griffith [!], Meryl Streep, and Sigourney Weaver, as powerpacked a host of competitors as the Awards had seen in a long time).

Staring Foster as Sarah Tobias, a New England waitress raped in one of those bizarre circumstances that force the culture to reflect on what it has become, The Accused mostly hinges on a legal trick. The movie's Tobias is a smoking, drinking, lower class girl with relatively loose, or at least hedonistic, morals, who would make a poor witness before a jury that might view her as getting what she deserved. Though her three rapists go to jail for "non-sexual" offenses, the film's assistant D.A., Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) feels a measure of guilt over the plea bargain and comes up with a thin, risky legal solution to Tobias's need for further justice: Murphy charges the on-lookers, men who cheered on the rapists in the back gaming room of the vast working man's bar where the rape occurred, with incitement. The trial for incitement gives Tobias renewed hope. Another trick of the movie is that the actual attack is not dramatized until the very end of the movie.

Sorry, but this isn't Anatomy of a Murder. That's a trial movie about a rape, and a murder, too, but in which every moment is believable. Attempts at plausibility and realism in The Accused quickly fall by the wayside. In the screenplay credited to Tom Topor, courtroom clichés soon start to dominate, from the skeptical colleagues who show up significantly during the closing arguments to show their support, to the waffling witness who ends up saving the day. The casting is uneven. Foster is not always convincing; and while the always dependable Leo Rossi brings a malignant masculinity to his part as one of the prodding bystanders, McGillis is sympathetic but unconvincing as a sole, abandoned prosecutor. The closing speeches are dull.

Director Jonathan Kaplan has veered over the years between exploitation films (he is a Corman grad) and socially important films, ranging from the very good Over the Edge to the recent Brokedown Palace. His hand excels with the action of the actual rape scene itself, but the film is uncertain when the women are bonding (Tobias seems to have an interest in astrology for the sole purpose of being touched when the skeptical lawyer finally shows an interest in the astrological chart Tobias has drawn up for her). For this and other reasons, The Accused is more an Oscar footnote than a fully realized film.


VIDEO: The Accused was released in 1988, and Paramount did a bare bones laser disc in 1989. This is probably not the same transfer, as the image (1.85:1) is enhanced for widescreen televisions. Still, it is a somewhat dark, grainy looking transfer, perhaps intentionally so given the "lower class" milieu. Cinematographer Ralf D. Bode, who has done a lot of Sissy Spacek movies, lights the courtroom interiors flatly like a TV show. It could be said diplomatically that the visuals do not get in the way of the story.

SOUND: Sound options are the basic Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, which comes into play most in court room echoes and in the violent bar scene. There is also Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround, which is good, and a French 2.0 Surround option. Brad Fiedel did the original music, and there are numerous pop tunes on the track as well.

MENUS: A static, silent menu offers 14 chapter scene selection for this 110 minute film.

PACKAGING: The Accused comes in a keep case with a reprint version of the original poster on the cover, reprinted on the disc's label, and also on a one page insert that also gives the chapter list

EXTRAS: One wonders if the lack of extras on this disc has anything to do with the weird rumors swirling around the stars during the time of the film's release. Given that the film is based on a real case, supplements could have been extensive: contemporaneous news stories, new interviews with some of the case's real participants; print news stories, various "where are they now" lists, and so on. The opportunity for unusual commentary tracks exists for this film as for few others, such as getting the real Tobias and her D.A. to chat along with the movie. In any case, Paramount has issued a supplements free disc with only scene selection, the trailer, and sound and subtitle options.

Final Thoughts: The Accused is a well-meaning docu-drama that isn't as powerful as the material suggests it could have been. Zero extras make this a less appealing item for collectors.

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