Silence in the court

Message delivered with stunning force

Published: Nov 19 2013, 01:01:am

Friday, October 22, 1988
THE ACCUSED. Written by Tom Toper. Music by Brad Fiedel. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Running time: 111 minutes. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. classifier's warning: violence, suggestive scenes and very coarse language, occasional nudity.
THE SILENCE IS DEAFENING. During rape victim Sarah Tobias's testimony, no one in the Birchfieid County courtroom utters a sound.
    It's the same in the theatre. The combination of circumstance and performance on screen creates a profound hush.
    Despite the presence of a near-capacity crowd, you could have heard a pin drop in the Capitol's 1,031-seat Cinema One. Sarah's anguish is palpable. In the seats, people seem to be holding their breath.
    The circumstances are built into the plot. The Accused seems to have been inspired by, but not based upon, the March, 1984, Cheryl Araujo case.

    Remembered as the New Bedford gang-rape trial, Araujo's courtroom ordeal ended with the conviction of the four men who had repeatedly assaulted her on the pool table of Big Dan's Bar. According to the evidence, the 22-year-old woman's assailants were urged on by the shouts and laughter of  numerous onlookers.
    The Accused opens with an exterior shot of The Mill, a grubby roadhouse standing in the shadow of a river-spanning Washington State freeway bridge. A young man exits and we see him rush to a phone booth a short distance away.
    As Kenneth Joyce (Bernie Coulson) attempts to anonymously report a rape in progress, a young woman runs out of the same door clutching her torn top. Unaware of Joyce, Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) flags down a passing truck.
    In the hospital, Tobias meets Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), the ambitious deputy district attorney who will attempt to make the case against her three attackers. The prosecutor's problem is that she can't make as good a case as she'd like.
    Murphy decides that Tobias, a waitress living in a mobile home with a suspected drug dealer, would make a poor witness. Rather than risk a courtroom loss, the career-conscious lawyer cuts a deal.
    The rapists plead guilty, not to rape but to the non-sexual offence of reckless endangerment. Though they're jailed, Tobias feels deeply betrayed.
    It's here that screenwriter Tom (Nuts) Topor makes a daring dramatic leap. A playwright who's taken his characters to court before, he has Murphy attempt the legally unprecedented (so far) prosecution of the rapists' rooting section., "the ones who cheered and clapped and made it happen."
    To the dismay of her boss, Murphy charges three additional men with "criminal solicitation." As a result, Tobias gets the day in court previously denied her.
    The performances carry the day. Under Jonathan (Project X) Kaplan's tight direction, Topor's socially-conscious drama gets a lean, no-nonsense telling.
    Memorably vile is Leo Rossi, cast as vicious voyeur Cliff Albrecht. Effectively ambivalent is Vancouver-born newcomer Coulson, playing the sensitive, guilt-stricken "surprise" witness Joyce. As driving attorney Murphy, McGillis gives her best performance yet.
    It is Foster, though,  who provides the picture with its anger, its purpose and its mesmerizing force. She is, quite simply, breathtaking as the unschooled, unglamourous victim who knows she's not perfect, but who also knows that justice has yet to be done.
    As in Stealing Home earlier this summer [1988], Foster dominates the screen. Her towering, not-to-be-missed performance allows The Accused to bring home an important message with stunning force.

*    *    *
BIRCHFIELD COUNTY, Washington, bears a startling resemblance to Vancouver, British Columbia. That, of course, is because The Accused was shot here.
    Though Paramount Pictures' press notes fail to mention it, the picture was made here during early 1987. Filmed as Reckless Endangerment, it features both B.C. locations and local performers, among them Terry David Mulligan, Allan Lysell, Stephen E. Miller and Pamela Martin.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: By the late 1980s, Vancouverites were used to seeing film crews at work around town. In the case of The Accused, its video store scene was shot in a strip mall just seven blocks from my home. It was around this time that the Hollywood-based studios started coming under pressure from their own domestic workers over the economic effects of so-called "runaway production." No wonder, then, that Paramount was reluctant to draw attention to the fact that their picture was shot north of the border. Something of a landmark, The Accused was the first made-in-B.C. feature to win an Academy Award (Jodie Foster's Best Actress Oscar).
    A performer from the age of three, Foster earned her first Oscar nomination at 14 (as Supporting Actress in 1976's Taxi Driver). Her third nomination (and second win) was for Best Actress in The Silence of the Lambs (1991). She'd be nominated again for playing the title role in Nell (1994). Before her working visit to Vancouver, she'd been to Montreal (The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane; 1976), Chester Bay, Nova Scotia (Echoes of a Summer; 1976) and Tadoussac, Quebec (The Hotel New Hampshire; 1984). And, yes, the space station scenes for her most recent feature, Elysium (2013), were shot in Vancouver.