The Accused (1988) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • After a young woman suffers a brutal gang rape in a bar one night, a prosecutor assists in bringing the perpetrators to justice, including the ones who encouraged and cheered on the attack.

  • Sarah Tobias goes to her local bar and is gang-raped by three men. The district attorney on the case is Katheryn Murphy who wants to prove that although Sarah had taken drugs that night and was acting provocatively while in the bar, this is no reason for her to be so brutally attacked and the men responsible should be brought to justice.

  • This movie is based on actual events. Sarah Tobias goes into a bar one night and winds up being gang raped by 3 guys. She is introduced to an attorney named Katherine Murphy. Not only does Katherine Murphy want to go after the men who commited the rape, she wants to go after the men in the bar who cheered it on. But Katherine has her work cut out for her. Her client has a past, and that past could be used against her in court.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The Accused (1988)

    The controversial rape-themed drama The Accused opens with an exterior shot of a bar, The Mill, located somewhere along the highways of Washington. Ominous music plays as the sky turns to black. A young man named Kenneth Joyce (Bernie Coulson) appears rushing outside of the bar. Before long, the wailing screams of young Sarah Tobias (Jodie Foster) are heard as she makes her way out of the bar. Apparently, she has suffered a prolonged gang rape at the hands of three men in a crowded room. Kenneth informs of this to the police as Sarah becomes rescued on the highway.

    At the hospital, she meets up with several professionals, including Carol Hunnicutt (Linda Darlow) from the Rape Crisis Center, whilst being examined by doctors. It is learned that Sarah was intoxicated at the time of the incident. Finally, she meets Kathryn Murphy (Kelly McGillis), her Deputy District Attorney and Lieutenant Duncan (Terry David Mulligan), who's in charge of the police investigation.

    With the bar still open, Sarah manages to point out two of her assailants to the police. There is Kurt (Kim Kondrashoff), a formidable presence wearing a yellow t-shirt, and local man Danny (Woody Brown).

    Kathryn drives Sarah home. She lives in a trailer home with her live-in boyfriend, drug dealer and would-be musician Larry (Tom O'Brien). She also has a dog named Sadie (named after The Beatles song "Sexy Sadie").

    After the police arrest the third suspect, a fraternity man named Bob Joiner (Steve Antin), the three rapists are released to their community on $10,000.00 bail. It turns out, Bob is a best friend of the much-chagrined Kenneth. Sarah, a waitress, hears of the news. At home, she is visited by Kathryn. Kathryn is unimpressed by Sarah's behavior as she had dressed provocatively that night at the bar and was also drinking heavily and showing a lot of cleavage. It is further revealed that Sarah had a record for drug possession. Denying this, Sarah demands that justice be done to her attackers.

    Kathryn goes on to interview some of the witnesses or onlookers to the scene. These include Sarah's best friend Sally Fraser (Ann Hearn), who was waitressing at The Mill the night Sarah was assaulted. They find Polito (Stephen E. Miller), a bar patron who saw what happened but proves useless for having been drunk and on probation during the events that night. After Kathryn makes a deal with the rapists' lawyers, the three men are sentenced to reckless endangerment (2 ½-5 years in prison).

    In a fit of rage, the betrayed Sarah storms in Kathryn's dinner party and confronts Kathryn over the relatively light sentences imposed on her attackers. It is believed Sarah would not have made a strong witness to the state. However, she goes on to emphasize the seriousness of the matter. While she was being gang-raped on a pinball machine, a crowd of men were "yelling and clapping".

    Back at home, Sarah cuts her hair. In the livingroom, Larry tries to seduce her, but she refuses. Enraged by Larry's lack of empathy and understanding of the potentially damaging, psychological or otherwise, effects rape has on her, Sarah orders Larry to leave her house permanently.

    The next day begins as Sarah unwittingly finds herself in a record store with Cliff 'Scorpion' Albrect (Leo Rossi), who taunts her with macho advances before revealing himself as one of the spectators to the rape. She tries to escape from the parking lot, but he obstructs her with his truck and harasses her. "You wanna play pinball?", he laughs. In a state of madness, Sarah decides to retaliate by ramming his truck. Before she could finish the job, she and Cliff both end up in the hospital with minor head injuries.

    Feeling guilt-ridden over not having offered Sarah a choice of testifying before agreeing to the deal, Kathryn is determined to prosecute the spectators for criminal solicitation. Thus, the rape would go on record and the rapists will stay in jail for the full 5 years. But her colleagues, especially D.A. Paul Rudolph (Carmen Argenziano), feel she has lost her mind and offer her little support. However, she receives much help along the way from Sarah and Sally, who identifies the three spectators in a lineup. They are Matthew Haines (Andrew Kavadas), Stu Holloway (Tom McBeath), and the aforementioned Cliff 'Scorpion' Albrect.

    Meanwhile, both Sarah and Sally meet up with Kathryn at her office. Sally is interviewed by Kathryn. It's discovered that Sarah had flirted heavily with Bob, one of the rapists, perhaps in an effort to get back at her cheating boyfriend. Hearing this, Kathryn decides it's best that Sally doesn't testify on Sarah's behalf. A thwarted Sarah leaves Kathryn's office.

    Fortunately enough, Kathryn eventually finds Kenneth at a university. Kenneth is reluctant to testify. Though not denying the behavior of the rapists, including his best friend, he maintains that the spectators weren't to blame. "It was like a show. They watched. Big deal", says Kenneth. He finally agrees to testify after Kathryn plays his recorded message.

    At the courthouse, Sarah gives a highly detailed, lengthy account of the night of the rape at The Mill. However, she is unable to ascertain who "applauded or shouted" or to prove that anyone in the bar really saw her struggling. The witness is excused.

    After visiting his friend Bob, Kenneth enters the courthouse. Though aware of the consequences facing Bob, Kenneth recounts what happened that night in a scene structured in flashbacks. In the flashback sequence, the sexily-dressed Sarah enters The Mill. She catches the eye of Danny and Bob, who's seated with Kenneth. Danny meets Sarah, and then accompanies her to the game room. They both play pinball with Bob and pretty soon find themselves dancing to the music playing on the jukebox. Danny embraces her "tight close". At this point, she tries to fight him off as he's coming on a bit strongly. Totally relentless, Danny throws her on top of the pinball machine and forces himself on her. In the process, Kurt has her arms pinned down and the near-sadistic spectators begin chanting "make her moan" and "stick it to her". Bob proceeds to rape her, followed by Kurt. As Kurt rapes her, the spectators repeatedly chant "One...two...three...four. Poke that pussy 'til it's sore". The scene ends with both Kenneth and Sarah storming out of the bar in disgust.

    Much debate is made on the charges laid against the spectators. As Attorney Paulsen (Peter Van Norden) points out, Sarah has been unable to acknowledge the spectators' responsibility. He firmly believes Kenneth is guilty for having watched a rape without taking action. "He was offered a way to purge that guilt, and he took it". Kathryn argues against this. As she states, "It is not the crime of criminal solicitation to silently watch a rape. But it is the crime of criminal solicitation to command, induce, entreat or otherwise persuade another person to commit a rape".

    In the film's final scenes, Kathryn wins the case, with special thanks to Sarah and Kenneth. All three defendents are found guilty of criminal solicitation. Sarah goes home to celebrate with her dog, Sadie.

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