Accused, The (1988): Jonathan Kaplan’s Rape Drama, Jodie Foster’s First Oscar Role as Gang-Rape Victim, Kelly McGillis as her Lawyer

In her first Oscar-winning role, Jonathan Kaplan’s The Accused, Jodie Foster plays Sarah Tobias, a fast-food waitress (traditional female profession), who is gang-raped in a roadside bar (also conventional stereotype).

Grade: B

The Accused
Accused ver2.jpg

Theatrical release poster

In the course of the tale, she is transformed from a good-time, hard-drinking girl to a more serious woman fighting for the decency and self-esteem she never had.

Tom Topor’s screenplay is loosely based on the much-publicized 1983 incident in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where a young woman was raped on a pool table, while the patrons stood by and cheered.

District attorney Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), who takes Sarah’s case, agrees to a plea bargain in which the rapists admit to reckless endangerment, fearing that her client’s sordid past will destroy her credibility in court.   Offended by it, Sarah castigates her lawyer for selling her out.  As a result, Murphy devises a new approach, to put the mob of onlookers on trial for criminal solicitation.

Foster’s highly intelligent performance benefits from the filmmakers’ decision to depict Sarah as a slut (a woman of loose morality) in order to strengthen their argument.  No matter how provocatively Sarah was dressed, or how erotically she danced, no one can believe that she wanted to be gang raped.

Unfortunately, despite good intentions, The Accused turns into a predictable courtroom drama without much insight, inspiration, or depth. Nonetheless, Foster’s riveting performance carries the film with explosive fury and energy, and her close-ups during the rape offer some of the scariest and most haunting images to be seen of a woman about to be abused, losing sense of control.  Recreating the experience, she says: “I heard someone screaming and it was me.”

Despite grim proceedings, the ending is rather upbeat.  Asked what she plans to do after the trial convicting her assailants, Sarah says: I don’t know, I’d like to go home, and I’d like to play with my dog.”

“The Accused” is both pulpier and more engaging than Paul Schrader’s “Patty Hearst,” which was released earlier this season and also deals with a victimized woman, albeit of a very different social class. For one thing, Kaplan shows more sympathy for his lower-class victim than Schrader does for Patty, and for another, Foster is a more likable and accomplished actress than Natasha Richardson.


Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster)
Kathryn Murohy (Kelly McGillis)
Kenneth Joyce (Bernie Coulson)
Sally Frazer (Ann Hearn)


Produced by Stanley Jaffe and Sherry Lansing

Directed by Jonathan Kaplan

Screenplay: Tom Topor

Camera: Ralf D. Bode

Editor: Jerry Greenberg, O. Nicholas Brown

Music: Brad Fiedel

Production design: Richard Kent Wilcox

Running time: 111 Minutes

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

Release date: October 14, 1988

Budget $13 million
Box office $92.1 million