By Marc S. Sanders
Jodie Foster won her first of two Best Actress Oscars for playing Sara Tobias, a victim of a barroom gang rape in The Accused, directed by Jonathan Kaplan and written by Tom Toper.
Kelly McGillis portrays prosecutor Katherine Murphy. Murphy initially makes a deal with the three men accused of the rape. An agreement is made for a lighter conviction “reckless endangerment,” rather than “rape,” and a trial is avoided. What happened to Sarah is never put on public record.
Circumstances thereafter motivate Katherine to go another step further and prosecute the men in the bar that encouraged and cheered for the rape to continue. Her own office questions if it will be worth it though and demand she walk away from this seemingly no win scenario.
Kaplan’s film is more or less paint by numbers until it reaches the moment a material witness takes the stand to testify on the exact sequence of events that actually occurred in the back room of a neighborhood bar. Foster is hard to watch at times and that’s the point. There’s nothing glamorous in a film centered on a rape victim, and she puts out all the ugly parts of her character first physically, and then with temper, habitual drinking, and the sense of a poor upbringing. Toper does equip his character with likability though. Sarah tries to get through the tough exterior of Katherine’s no nonsense lawyer ideology with her interests in astrology. Through the film, Katherine shows no interest but we all know that’ll change. Nothing is shocking in the developments of Toper’s story.
What is jaw dropping though is how Kaplan depicts Sarah’s post rape examination. Deep cuts and bruises are shown in various parts of her body. She is propped on stirrups for evidence retention (hair, skin and semen samples for example), even the annoyingly repetitive click and flash of a Polaroid camera are disturbing. You can’t help but be concerned or taken aback.
No. A movie will never measure up to what victims endure following incidents like this. Still, the footage early on in The Accused certainly got me emotional.
The big shock is towards the end when the re-enactment of the rape is presented. Kaplan doesn’t hold back with his crew of extras playing the bar mates. Drinks are abundantly consumed, then a song in the jukebox, some weed, pinball, a wink, then a sexy dance, and suddenly Sarah’s skirt is lifted to reveal her panties and she’s propped on a pinball machine with her arms restrained and her mouth covered by a hand. Then the woo hooing is disturbingly brought on.
Why do I document all of this? I want to show how subtle Kaplan is with the rape scene. Innocent laughs and drunken play can suddenly turn on any one of us, man or woman. A song plays. People are stoned and drunk, and before any of us realize it, there’s a sexually assaulted victim, and a rapist, or three rapists actually. Moreover, there are those who wish for this moment to last and egg it on. For one woman, none of it is fun anymore.
Again, the storyline development of The Accused is nothing we haven’t seen before. It’s step by step, connect the dots within the courtroom and law offices. The crimes (rape for one, cheering & persuading – a crime for another) are terribly shocking though, especially when we see it first-hand.
Every man and woman should watch The Accused. It’s important we remember that we are capable of subjecting ourselves or being subjected.
More so, regardless of our age or experience, we all have something to learn about what a rape victim endures. I imagine this film doesn’t come close, but it’s a solid start.