Miranda's Victim


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Miranda's Victim
"Makes an important contribution to the conversation around sexual violence."

If you’ve ever been arrested by US police, or if you’ve watched films or television programmes in which that happens, you’ll be aware of the phrase ‘Miranda rights’. It means, in essence, that the detained person has the right to remain silent under interrogation, and has the right to speak to a lawyer before answering questions. Any information obtained by interrogating a suspect who has not been made aware of these rights is (under normal circumstances) inadmissible in a court of law.

This system was established in US law following the Miranda v. Arizona case of 1966, which saw a judge overturn a rape conviction on the grounds that the convicted man, Ernesto Arturo Miranda, had incriminated himself because he did not know his rights, and that the use of testimony gathered in such a manner was a violation of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution. The ruling has become part of the bedrock of the US justice system – but what happened to Miranda’s victim?

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Rape victims, of course, have the option of anonymity in most jurisdictions. This was the case here, but subsequently the name Lois Ann Jameson became attached to the complainant and was used in assorted press pieces. In this film she is identified as Patricia Weir – known to family and friends as Trish (and played by the always impressive Abigail Breslin). We first see her in the car with her mother, who is making sure that her cinema usher’s uniform is properly buttoned up before dropping her off for work. A good girl by the standards of that place an time but as embarrassed by such attentions as any teenager, Trish protests that it’s not the 1950s anymore.

Time and place are perfectly captured in every detail: the clothes, the cars, the gorgeously appointed Paramount where Trish sneaks a look through one of the doors to see Gregory Peck making his much-quoted speech in To Kill A Mockingbird. She shyly flirts with fellow usher James, who asks if he can ride home with her on the bus. There’s a lightness to their interactions which captures that sense of youth with oceans of time to look forward to and no need to rush. It’s the last time Trish will feel such a lightness, however. Between the bus stop and her house, everything changes, and when she gets home, part of her is gone forever.

The detective whom she speaks to, Lawrence Turoff (Luke Wilson), sees a timidity in her which he believes her assailant took advantage of; and yet he also sees, from the outset, her remarkable courage. This is 1963 and rape is a subject surrounded by shame. Trish has been saving up to attend secretarial school and looking forward to one of the few independent careers available to women in her class at the time. Her mother worries that nobody will want to employ her if they find out she’s been raped, that she will ruin her life in pursuit of justice which she’s highly unlikely to get. She even casts doubt on her account of events, on the basis that she has a friend who is considered to be promiscuous. Trish simply wants to get justice, and is also aware that in doing so she may be able to protect other women.

This early part of the film focuses mainly on the practical and social matters which Trish has to contend with. Skip forward and we see her getting fitted for a bridal gown. As far as she’s concerned, the matter of the rape is behind her and she doesn’t see why she should mention it to Charles (Josh Bowman), her husband to be. He’s from a wealthy family, and she is considered to have done well. A little blue wooden house with orange painted shutters and potted plants outside provides the perfect escape from the messiness of her former life, and she spends her time watching soap operas which assure her that there are things men were not meant to know. Her own illusions are shattered, however, when she hears on the news that her assailant has been released.

Here the film turns into something more complex. Ryan Phillippe has the difficult job of playing John Flynn, the ACLU lawyer who overturned Miranda’s conviction. Though Flynn is given some space here to defend his decision, there’s still a risk of him coming across as the bad guy in light of the emotional slant of the film. His contention, essentially, is that if the verdict stood, other people would be wrongfully convicted because the police would have a much freer hand in interrogations, without regard for suspects’ constitutional rights. Like many a specialist fixated on solving a puzzle, he seems to have overlooked the effect which his work might have on Trish.

Whilst moving on the matter of a retrial – with the great Donald Sutherland lending it appropriate gravitas as the judge – the film also explores the impact on Trish’s personal life, which gives it room to address some of the subtler ways in which women were (and are) mistreated by men. There’s a moment in the courtroom when a key female witness is told that her testimony cannot be trusted because she has previously lied to access welfare payments, and the precarity of many women’s financial circumstances – especially when they have children to feed – is highlighted.

As in many courtroom dramas and a disappointing number of real trials, we see an emphasis on emotion rather than logic at this stage which exposes the tightrope that the film is trying to walk. It also emphasises the way in which high emotion can seem to validate setting reason aside. At this stage in this case, either might have led to the same result, but in the initial interrogation room, that was obviously not the case. Nevertheless, it’s important that Trish is able to say what she does, and, in doing so, to make a point about the experience of rape which is strangely overlooked most of the time, and which might get through to people who still struggle to understand where survivors are coming from.

Needless to say, Breslin gives it her all. This is a very different role from those she has had in the past and showcases her truly remarkable range. The script gives her a lot to work with and there is an emphasis on survival and resilience throughout which ensures that Trish never comes across merely as an object of pity. The process through which she asserts and expands her agency over the course of the film has relevance beyond her experience of the crime and positions her as a true heroine, not simply as someone who is defined by her response to the actions of another.

Miranda’s Victim takes on a lot and, although it is not entirely successful, it makes an important contribution to the conversation around sexual violence. Rather than simply telling a story, it subtly reshapes the frameworks for such narratives, changing the focus as it pays tribute to a woman who put everything on the line in an effort to do the same.

Reviewed on: 27 May 2023
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The story of the young woman caught in the middle when her rapist was released due to police failings in the case which led to the creation of Miranda rights.
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Director: Michelle Danner

Writer: George Kolber, Richard Lasser, J Craig Stiles

Starring: Abigail Breslin, Mireille Enos, Andy Garcia, Donald Sutherland, Ryan Phillippe, Kyle MacLachlan, Emily VanCamp, Luke Wilson, Taryn Manning

Year: 2023

Runtime: 127 minutes

Country: US


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