← Back to Reviews

The Accused

Jodie Foster won her first Oscar for Outstanding Lead Actress for her performance in a 1988 nail biter called The Accused, which takes an unflattering and up close look at the crime of rape, how hard it is to convict, and how the rights of the accused seem much more important than the rights of the victim.

Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a woman who walks into a bar one night and ends up running out of the same bar later in tattered clothing after being gang-raped in the back room of the bar by three men. Sarah reports the crime immediately and does everything a rape victim should do and the three men are apprehended, but Sarah is upset when she learns that the prosecuting attorney, Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis) decides that Sarah would not be a credible witness on the stand and makes a deal with the accused, pleading to a lesser charge.

Sarah feels Kathryn has let her down and it isn't until Kathryn has a personal encounter with one of the accused that she realizes she's made a mistake. She can't un-do the deal she's already made, so she decides to prosecute the witnesses who stood there in the room cheering and encouraging the rape.

Screenwriter Tom Topor has done his homework, offering us a story with no easy answers. Should the accused get a pass because Sarah came into the bar provocatively dressed? Should Sarah be penalized because she was under the influence of alcohol and marijuana? However out of hand things may have become, didn't it become rape the moment Sarah said no? Of course, the last question is where the crux of the drama lies and that's why we know the truth won't be revealed until the inevitable re-enactment of what happened that night through the eyes of a key witness and non-participant in the crime, which is where director Jonathan Kaplan really scored...the direction of the scene of the crime is nothing short of brilliant.

Kaplan also got a powerhouse performance from Foster in a role that evokes sympathy one scene and embarrassment the next. We know this woman is a victim but she really doesn't act like it a lot and seems to be destroying her own case. McGillis is a little wooden as Murphy and I have to admit I kept picturing someone else in this role, someone like Diane Keaton, who could let Foster shine in the more showy role without fading into the wallpaper the way McGillis does at points in this film. With a different actress playing Murphy, this film could have been amazing, but Foster is still mesmerizing and commands your attention, as she always does.