Boasting a truly spectacular ensemble cast and detailing both the American legal system and the “blind eye” mentality that often accompanies accusations of sexual assault, Miranda’s Victim is an occasionally shaky, but always captivating true story drama.
Despite its 1960’s setting, Michelle Danner‘s film feels all too relevant in this current climate; no doubt in the wake of the #MeToo movement, a film such as this dealing with its topic of rape and he said/she said temperament found easier footing in coming to fruition. In its 1966-set opening, we meet Patricia “Trish” Weir (a strong Abigail Breslin), seeming mother and wife, who sees a news report relating to the passing of a law that requires police officers to inform their suspects when arrested that they have the right to remain silent – a practice now known as the Miranda warning or, commonly, Miranda rights.
Just why this relates in particular to Trish becomes soon apparent when, 3 years prior, she was the victim of an alleged rape at the hands of a man known as Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn), an attack that proved more of an uphill battle than Trish could ever fathom. The officer overseeing her case (Enrique Murciano) and her eventual lawyer (a sweet Luke Wilson) both believe her implicitly, as does her sister (Emily VanCamp), but her mother (Mireille Enos, perhaps a bit too melodramatic at times) doesn’t want the trouble of what such a lawsuit could bring about. She believes her daughter is damaged goods and insists Trish keep such trauma to herself; the importance of marrying clearly taking precedence over the truth.
The fact that Ernesto’s initial admittance of guilt only resulted in brief incarceration and was more met with outrage from the higher-ups who believe his rights were violated – Ryan Phillippe providing ample support as Miranda’s determined lawyer – speaks to the habitual horror that most victims have to exist in; the film itself ends with the rather terrifying statistic that for every 1000 sexual assaults committed in the United States, only 5 result in a criminal conviction. It only further reiterates why it took Trish herself nearly 60 years to tell her story.
A small-scale film that homes grand intentions, Miranda’s Victim doesn’t always tread with an even foot throughout though. The legal throughline of the narrative and its emotional offshoots should have been where Danner and screenwriters George Kolber and J. Craig Stiles laid their focus, but, at times, it feels as if it wants to incorporate every moment of exposition to the film’s detriment, resulting in an outing that can’t overcome tonal inconsistencies.
However melodramatic its personality may be at times, Miranda’s Victim is nonetheless an important film. One that demands its audience pay attention as it amplifies the voice of the voiceless with heart and gumption, two components that Breslin encapsulates with a tender, winning performance that refuses to faulter, even when the film does itself.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Miranda’s Victim is playing as part of this year’s Santa Barbara International Film Festival, taking place between February 8th and 18th, 2023. For more information head to the official SBIFF page.