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After being brutally and repeatedly raped in a local bar as a crowd cheers on, Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) is incensed when her lawyer, assistant district attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), agrees to the reduced charges of "aggravated assault." Apparently Tobias wouldn't make a good victim with her previous drug charges and "promiscuous drunken behaviour" on the night of the crime. Yet Tobias wants justice, and challenges Murphy into a novel approach; to prosecute the spectators for encouraging the rape.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey: 
Inspired by the notorious bar-room rape that occurred in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1983, this gripping 1988 drama is something of a first for Hollywood movies; a serious movie about rape. More importantly, it was the first film to unveil a dirty little secret in the judicial system; how rape victims often become suspects in their own cases, as desperate defence lawyers put them on trial for their behaviour, their appearance, their past indiscretions and so on in an attempt to shift responsibility from their client. 

The Accused does this with a deft touch. Director Jonathan Kaplan makes the immediate aftermath of the rape the first scenes of the movie, where white trash Tobias moves through the emergency care and legal systems, encountering cold professionals who couldn’t care less. Kaplan gets to the rape through flashbacks, and the scenes of the diminutive Foster being manhandled atop a pinball machine still shock today. Most of all, The Accused is good because of the knockout, dead-on performance of Jodie Foster. The intelligent ice-queen is totally believable as a hard-living, inarticulate and angry alcoholic who often lacks the words for the things she feels. When she's taunted by one of her attackers later in a parking lot, she's so angry she simply rams his car repeatedly. You can see Foster struggling to express herself here and in every frustrating legal bargain.

When she speaks, we can see every word being wrung out of her raw emotions. It's an intense, masterful performance, and Foster deserved her first Oscar for it, proving that her nomination at age 14 for the role of a teenage hooker in Taxi Driver was no fluke. Foster was a force to be reckoned with after this, but not so for her co-star Kelly McGillis, who displays all the charisma of a winter coat and hasn't been heard of since.

It might have been nice to hear a commentary from either of these actors, or a documentary on the real-life case, but this bare-bones DVD comes with only the trailer, so it can't be recommended as a must-have for the library.

Luckily, The Accused stands alone as a sobering film that was the first to challenge perceived ideas about rape and responsibility, crime and punishment. The relationship between lawyer and client is at the heart, as each come to identify with the other as a women tied to a man's world; Foster as a victim of rape, McGillis as a victim of compromise in a male-centric judicial system. Boosted by Foster's dynamic performance, The Accused demands respect - and gets it.

Published September 12, 2002

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(US- 1988)

CAST: Jodie Foster, Kelly McGillis, Bernie Coulson, Leo Rossi, Carmen Argenziano, Ann Hearn, Steve Antin, Tom O'Brien

DIRECTOR: Jonathan Kaplan

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer


DVD RELEASE: September 6, 2002

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