Having failed to bring her attackers to justice, a young rape victim goes to court to take on the witnesses who encouraged their crime
In the United States of America, a rape is reported every six minutes. One of every four rape victims is attacked by two or more assailants. These are the grim statistics against which The Accused is played out, and it's to the credit of Kaplan and his cast that this dark and bitter pill has not been sweetened by the Hollywood bubblegum machine.
Jodie Foster, of course, won an Oscar for her extraordinary portrayal of rape victim Sarah Tobias — a role which was originally offered to, and turned down by, Kelly McGillis, herself the survivor of a rape. Instead, McGillis elected to play Kathryn Murphy, the deputy D.A. who takes on Sarah's case.
What's astonishing is how quickly and easily Sarah is marginalised by a legal and social structure which simply isn't geared to handle '.nyone like her. She's too loud, too complex. She smokes dope, drinks, hangs out with a biker, waits tables and likes to "fool around". When she is brutally raped by three men in a bar, Sarah is considered by Murphy to be too unreliable a witness to take the stand, and as a result the men get off on a lesser charge. Outraged, she shames McGillis into trying to convict the onlookers who, she says, were clapping and cheering and who would therefore be guilty of "criminal solicitation".
Kaplan and scriptwriter Tom Topor use McGillis' development to track some uncomfortable and complex social issues—the way Sarah's world collides with the sleazy plea-bargaining world of her lawyers; the way she has to fight against Murphy's initial distaste; the way she finds herself laughing outside a record store with a guy who turns out to have been at the bar that night.
Foster is simply fantastic as the tough Sarah, unshakeable in her belief that justice has not been done and that she has a right to demand it. McGillis, from a slow start, builds beautifully and by the time the action has switched to the courtroom, she has shed her starchy persona for a true advocate's passion. Her coaxing of Foster's testimony results finally in each sentence from Sarah ending with "was inside of me", and it's enough to break your heart.
When it comes, almost at the end of the film in flashback, the rape scene is devastating, harrowing and utterly convincing; the suggestion that it's either gratuitous or voyeuristic is, frankly, nonsense. Rather, it's the point towards which the film hurtles from the opening scene in which Sarah emerges screaming from the bar, clutching her torn blouse.
The Accused received phenomenal critical acclaim and success at the box-office. If you missed it at the cinema, do yourself a favour. Don't miss it now.
Her performance in this film helped Jodie Foster reclaim her career.