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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

The Accused (1988), directed by Jonathan Kaplan

The Accused -

Let me begin with the title. Since this movie was inspired by the case of Cheryl Araujo, who was gang-raped, and whose trial became a classic instance of blaming the victim, the temptation to think it refers to Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) is strong. Sarah, too, is gang-raped, on a pinball machine in a local bar, by three men. But Sarah's character flaws are questioned only half-heartedly here.

Could it be the rapists themselves who are accused? Certainly not. The title is freighted with meaning, and the crime itself tells us all we need to know about the three black-hats who raped Sarah. So...who, then?

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, it refers to us. Specifically, to three men who didn't participate in the rape itself, but who watched it, cheered it, and helped make it happen. Spectators, in other words. Like us, watching this movie. No more, says the movie, can we shirk responsibility for the consequences of our behavior, even when we do not directly cause something bad to happen. There is no such thing as "merely" watching. As noted by the observer effect, observation itself affects that which is observed.

This, then, is a Message Movie. Trouble is, it sends mixed messages. I found myself thinking about how messed up our legal system is. The reason the three spectators are put on trial is because Assistant District Attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) agrees to a plea deal with the rapists, one that doesn't include sexual assault, and which will likely see them back on the streets in nine months. If that weren't bad enough, Murphy, unhappy about the deal, is pleased to get a chance to try the spectators. If, she says, she can convict them, then the rape will go on the record, and come parole hearing time the rapists will be denied and forced to serve their full 5-year terms. Which is great because they're guilty, but which smacks a little of gaming the double-jeopardy law, which exists, of course, to protect the innocent.

Then, too, the movie ends with a rape statistic, as if the preceding 110 minutes were about rape. And it's a good thing they weren't. If they had been, then Sarah was a very bad choice for the victim. I know that rape is rape, but why in the world would you pick a woman to talk about it who comes out of it pretty much the same as she was before the event -- better, in fact? I'd like to see the statistics on that.

What this movie has going for it are good performances, led by Jodie Foster's. She's earthy here and reckless, but honest and strong, and even sweet. That she isn't much of a model of a genuine rape victim (or so I would think) isn't her fault, it's the script's. We see her freaked out when a guy comes on to her, but it isn't because of the rape so much as that the guy turns out to be the slimiest of the spectators, played by Leo Rossi (who looks slimy, even when he's trying to be charming). He taunts and harasses her. Who wouldn't freak out?

And then there's the rape scene itself. It's noisy and violent, but is it exploitative? Well, consider this: there wouldn't be a movie without it, because there's very little drama in the fates of the legally accused.