My current Top 5

My current Top 5

7/19/2010

Best Actress 1988: Jodie Foster in "The Accused"

1988 was Oscar’s salute to the 80s. Rain Man, The Accidental Tourist, Working Girl, The Accused – all movies that couldn’t be more 80s even if they tried. But, of course, every decade produced movies that are a symbol of the time they are made in – not all movies can be set in Shakespeare’s times. But none of the aforementioned movies were able to really be timeless – today, they seem rather dated and even forgettable. Only The Accused, thanks to a very serious topic that will unfortunately never be dated, is still able to pack a punch but suffers mostly from the aura of ‘lifetime movie’ that constantly surrounds it. When all is said and done, it’s a powerful message told by an average movie with only two things to really make it worthwhile – the performances by Kelly McGillis and, especially, Jodie Foster.

The Accused was Jodie Foster’s transition from former child star into full-fledged, critically acclaimed dramatic actress. Her Oscar was won for the kind of tour-de-force that seems destined to win awards even before the first ‘Action!’ – as a lower class, white trash girl who gets gang-raped in a dirty bar by drunken patrons and wants to see justice done. What separates this movie from most others of this kind is that it takes justice even further when Sarah’s lawyer Kathryn also begins to prosecute those men in the bar who didn’t rape Sarah but who cheered and celebrated during the crime and that way provoked the others to continue to rape her.

Another thing that sets The Accused apart and ultimately makes it a much more layered movie is the fact that Sarah Tobias may be a rape victim – but she isn’t a saint. Jodie Foster’s performance never tries to gain the audience’s sympathy by presenting Sarah as a poor, sweet, innocent little girl who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead, Sarah is loud, provocative, uneducated and easily loses her temper. Sarah wasn’t at the wrong place at the wrong time, she is a frequent visitor of the bar and on this particular evening she was angry at her boyfriend with whom she had a fight and so she decided to have some fun, danced and flirted with some guys, maybe even aroused them – her provocative outfit and sexy dancing made it easy for her to get the interest of the guys in the bar. Basically Sarah does everything that would most people who read about a case like this say ‘Ah, she was asking for it!’ But the movie makers and Jodie Foster make it perfectly clear that there is no ‘asking for it’. Because this time we don’t read about the crime but we are witnessing it. And that way we can see that, even though Sarah may have gone too far in her behavior, she clearly noticed that something went wrong and clearly asked the guys to stop it when they began to go too far. There is a sudden and dramatic change of atmosphere when the fun and desire in the room suddenly turns into a shocking crime. These scenes show that Sarah was certainly not asking for it, that she wanted to get out, that she screamed and kicked and that only force and violence could help her attackers to get what they want.

But, unfortunately for Sarah, the people around her react exactly the expected way. Her reputation, her behavior, her temperament that would make her an unlikable witness in front of a jury, turn against her. But Sarah is the kind of woman who wants to see justice. Jodie Foster shows that she certainly won’t change her character for the jury because for her, it’s not her character that’s on trial – it’s the criminals. Jodie Foster demonstrates that for Sarah, it’s all about the crime against her. Why should she not be a witness in her own case as her lawyer first insists because she is afraid that the jury would not like her? It’s up to Jodie Foster to bring this part to life and create a believable character who wants the crime to be judged while people around her judge the crime – and her. What works so well in this performance is the fact that Jodie Foster is one of the few actresses who is able to play characters that are not as smart as she is. A lot of actresses let her personal intelligence shine in their performances but Jodie Foster holds all her personal qualities back to create a real character from the lower end of society.

It’s certainly a showy role on every level but not one that produces an acclaimed result automatically – the level of difficulty is very high and only a talented actress can reach it. Jodie Foster certainly did reach even if she sometimes went too far in her interpretation.

In this performance, Jodie Foster doesn’t only show the terror or rape but also the terrible aftermath which is characterized by pain and fear. On a technical level, the performance is certainly a stunning achievement. The way Jodie Foster uses her voice is especially impressive – her constant whispering after the rape show how much her voice has suffered from the screams and shouts but also how introverted she is at these moments. Her mix of fear, shock and embarrassment is played extremely well and Jodie Foster doesn’t forget to also show the anger in Sarah. Anger for the people who did this to her. It seems that this anger is the driving force of Sarah’s character – the painful memory of the rape is always overshadowed by her thirst for justice, a justice carried out by the law. Even though Sarah may not be a very educated woman, she still has a strong feeling of what is right and wrong and how the search for justice should be done. She possesses strong instincts that guide her through life, even though they sometimes lead her into bad situations. Jodie Foster shows that Sarah mostly lets these instincts control her life and that way she creates a strong contrast to the character of Kathryn, an intelligent lawyer, who always thinks at least three steps ahead. It’s the combination of these two women that will lead to justice – one has the legal experience, the other one the strength and determination.

At the same time, it would have been better for both the movie and the character, if Jodie Foster had also invested more into the experience of the crime. Sarah never really seems to think about what happened except when the script calls for it. The scene when she tells the story of her rape in the witness stand is certainly unforgettable and Jodie Foster makes the events appear right in front of the viewer’s eyes (so making the later flash-back scenes almost unnecessary), but these memories only come when they are called for. A little more focus on how the rape affected her character would have been desirable.

The character of Sarah is very underwritten actually, so it is up to Jodie Foster to turn her into a three-dimensional human being. She succeeds in this area wonderfully by a) showing the tough side of her character, b) opening this side up more and more during the run of the story and c) adding little touches that show her life and back story. The relationship with her boyfriend is explained in a few scenes but the real highlight of Jodie’s performance is the telephone call to her emotionally unavailable and estranged mother after the rape. Here, she magnificently shows a woman who is longing for hold and support after a horrible incident but finds only distance and disinterest. These kind of phone-calls are always a great opportunity for every actor because you don’t have to share the screen and can demonstrate a wide range of emotions which Jodie certainly does.

As mentioned, during the movie, Jodie begins to show another side in Sarah, a more soft and understanding one. She begins to listen to her lawyer, trusts her and finds a better way of communicating than her usual anger. That way she is also able to create a character the audience can relate to and understand. It would have been very easy to let a character like Sarah slip away from the viewer but Jodie Foster carefully avoided this. She certainly found the right tone for most of the performance but unfortunately sometimes she seemed to have been too overwhelmed by the nature of the story that demanded one emotional roller coaster after another and sometimes she simply went too far. Especially noteworthy (in a negative meaning) is the scene when she is confronting Kathryn in her apartment. She expresses the anger and frustration of Sarah well but gets too over-the-top in her delivery. During most the story, Jodie Foster does a good job of projecting the feelings of hurt and shame that are in Sarah since the rape but at the same time, she too often appears too…exaggerated. If she had taken one step back during a lot of her scenes her performance could have been much more memorable. The technical and the emotional parts of her performance work very well but they never really connect. It seems that Jodie gets the best results in her performance in scenes that didn’t intend to be great and where she could be more relaxed. Whenever she knows that a scene demands strong acting, she seems to become a little to stiff. It’s also strange that, considering the dominant nature of her part, Kelly McGillis as Kathryn very often dominates the movie and is able to more than once, challenge Jodie’s performance with her own subtle portrayal.

Still, the one scene that will surely stay with every viewer forever, the scene of the rape, is done perfectly. Especially because Jodie Foster is finally extremely relaxed in the scenes leading up to the crime. Her way of flirting, the way she presents a woman who only wants to have a good time, her dancing is all done very believably and naturally until she suddenly changes the character and begins to show the horror of what’s happening to her. It’s exhausting to watch the scene and Jodie Foster certainly delivers a tour-de-force here, especially because the scent itself is so…long. The rape goes on and on, first by one man, then another and then another and Jodie goes on, too, stays in a state of pain and agony that she can only express with her eyes.

It’s laudable that Jodie Foster so completely threw herself into the part and was not afraid to show a more unlikable side of her character while never letting her lose her dignity. But she still seemed too often destined to make sure that her character would be the dominant force of the story even though she didn’t have to do that since the movie’s structure guaranteed that already. It’s clear that she played the part very effectively, but just sometimes, a little less would have been more. But it’s still an unforgettable performance of a very challenging role that gets

11 comments:

dinasztie said...

Great job. You're so right about 1988: all the movies were so typical 80s and I hated them (except for Dangerous Liaisons). From me she could get a 4.5/5, though I might have to rewatch her.

Fritz said...

Thanks! Yeah, most of the 1988 movies were really not good but Dangerous Liaisons is fantastic!

joe burns said...

Great! Although I disagree: I thought that the movie more then showed how the rape affected her and Jodie did a great job in showing that. But to each his own! A 4. 5/5 from me.

And I'm sort of confused about this sentence: But she still seemed too often destined to make sure that her character would be the dominant force of the story even though she didn’t have to do that since the movie’s structure guaranteed that already." What does that mean? That she was hogging the screen or something else? I'm sorry, I just don't get it!

Fritz said...

Sorry, Joe, my English is probably sometimes not the best. Yes, I sometimes felt a little bit as if she was hogging the screen. She seemed so eager to make sure that all eyes are on her constantly but she didn't have to do that since her character is the central point of the story, anyway. That's why I meant she could have been a little more subtle instead of overdoing it.

joe burns said...

No, it's just I didn't understand it because your writing was too complex for me to understand. Your english wasn't bad!

Sage Slowdive said...

Just what I expected :)

Tom said...

very good performance. She was no longer the kid from "Freaky Friday".

joe burns said...

Can you do Glenn next?

Fritz said...

Yep, I alreay planned to do her next!

Allen said...

Meh, something about Foster in this movie rubs me the wrong way. The scenes where she's all angry and screaming just didn't do it for me.

Fritz said...

I guess you mean the scene with Kelly McGillis...Yeah, I didn't like that one either.