The term “Miranda Rights” will be familiar to anyone who watches police procedurals on TV. This film follows the sexual assault case that led to American citizens being read their “Miranda rights” when being arrested. The woman who bravely pressed charges against her assailant under the condition that her name never be revealed broke her silence after sixty years—and this film is the result. (Ironically, her stealth led to the bill being named after her assailant instead of her!)
The setting is a small town in 1963. Abigail Breslin gives a moving performance as an unworldly 18-year-old girl who is raped, at a time when the word itself was barely uttered in polite company, let alone in a courtroom. In a tight-knit community, admitting to a crime such as this branded the woman, not her predator. If nothing else, Miranda’s Victim offers a vivid reminder of how much has changed in the intervening years (and how far we still have to go). Younger audiences may find it hard to believe that our society was so shallow and naïve, but the movie gets it right.
Director Michelle Danner has enlisted an exceptional cast led by Luke Wilson, Ryan Phillippe, Andy Garcia, Mireille Enos, Kyle McLachlan, and Enrique Murciano who is especially good as the detective that takes on Miranda’s case and sees that it doesn’t fall through the cracks. I don’t consider it a spoiler to disclose that Donald Sutherland plays the judge who concludes the story; suffice it to say that he brings weight and authority to this crucial role.
While it’s apparent that the film was made on a tight budget, once the story kicks in it is so absorbing—and the actors’ work so persuasive—that it barely matters. Story credit goes to George Kolber, J. Craig Stiles, and Richard Lasser, with a screenplay by Stiles. Director Danner lets the inherent drama of the raw material breathe fully and gives her actors room to play as well.
One might think this modest, straightforward narrative wouldn’t warrant a theatrical film. But there’s more than meets the eye to Miranda’s Victim, the dramatization of an important story that is as unpretentious as it is effective.