Greetings again from the darkness. “You have the right to remain silent.” Whether you say it out loud or just finish it in your head, the vast majority of us know what follows, even if it’s (hopefully) just from watching TV and movies. You likely also know that it’s part of The Miranda Rights … a list of rights that anyone being arrested is entitled to. If you are like me, you probably hadn’t put any thought into the origin of those rights or the requirement for law enforcement to recite them in a timely manner. Director Michelle Danner (THE RUNNER, 2021) and co-writers George Kolber and J Craig Stiles are here to educate by bringing us the story of Trish Weir and Ernesto Miranda.
The film is based on the true story of Trish, an 18-year-old working at a local movie theater. After one late night bus ride home from work, she was abducted and raped. As Trish, Abigail Breslin proves yet again that she is a terrific actor, and fully grown up since her breakthrough performance in LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006). What follows is gut-wrenching, and likely a scene that played out all too frequently fifty years ago, and still occurs today. Trish’s mom (Mireille Enos, “The Killing”) tries to dissuade her from going to the police by warning her that “they never believe the victim”, and that she will then be considered “damaged goods.” It’s painful to watch this play out, despite knowing that mom thinks she is protecting her young daughter. Trish’s sister Ann (Emily Van Camp, “Revenge”) is very supportive and follows her to the doctor for the initial check-up, to the police station for filing the report, and ultimately to the courtroom.
There is much to consider in this story. How courageous was Trish for standing up and pursuing the case? How about the detectives (played by Enrique Murciano, Brent Sexton) who recognized that even though other victims had chosen not to come forward, Trish could help them stop a really bad guy? And then there is a legal system that was unfair to both Trish and Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn), as well as the attorney, judges, and jurors involved with the cases. Fittingly, a clip of the 1962 classic TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is shown, emphasizing the wheels of justice turn slowly. We see that the ACLU attorney (Ryan Phillippe) gets involved when he believes Mr. Miranda was coerced into a confession. This is the case that changes everything.
Supporting work comes from Luke Wilson as Trish’s attorney, Lawrence Turoff; Andy Garcia as Miranda’s first defense attorney, Alvin Moore; Donald Sutherland as a judge in the case; Taryn Manning (“Orange is the New Black”) as a key witness; Dan Lauria as the examining doctor; and Kyle MacLachlan as Chief Justice Earl Warren, who is excited for a rare public reading of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in 1966. It should be noted that the film is very well acted, with the notable exception of Ryan Phillippe, who tries oh-so-hard to steal his scenes, failing painfully.
Michelle Danner’s work as director here is exceptional, given how many facets to the story must be juggled and given proper due. Even the re-trial of Miranda is handled well, as Trish is put through another round of emotional turmoil, this time involving her spouse. The film ends with a startling statistic: only 5 of every 1000 sexual assaults result in a conviction. Those are today’s figures, so we are left to wonder just how much has changed over the past 60 years.
The film is currently playing the Film Festival circuit
Greetings again from the darkness. For the fifteen plus years Jon Stewart hosted “The Daily Show”, he could be depended on to bring his acerbic wit and often scathing political commentary to virtually every show. His most devoted followers leaned left, though he was known to take down extremists on both ends. Stewart’s foray into filmmaking as writer-director was ROSEWATER (2014), a look at the detainment and interrogation of journalist Maziar Bahari in an Iranian prison. This follow-up takes a much lighter approach – one similar to his TV days – while still managing to skewer our election system and campaign financing.
Steve Carell spent a brief time as a reporter/correspondent on “The Daily Show” before heading off to mega-stardom in movies and on TV. Here he plays Gary Zimmer, a political strategist for the Democratic Party. The film opens on the 2016 Presidential campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and we first see Zimmer in a whirlwind media battle of words against his nemesis, Faith Brewster (played by a funny but underutilized Rose Byrne), a strategist for the Republicans. As you might imagine, Zimmer is a funk after the election, and his career is in shambles.
A ray of hope and inspiration enters Zimmer’s life in the form of a viral YouTube video. Wisconsin farmer and former Marine Jack Hastings (the great Chris Cooper) is recorded tearing into the Deerlaken Mayor and City Council. Zimmer recognizes the Patriotism and a potential Party savior, and seizes on the opportunity to convince Hastings that the Democrats stand for the same things he stands for … those things he rattled off in the video.
Zimmer in Deerlaken is the proverbial fish-out-of-water, and his trip is farmed for laughs. It starts in the local German beer hall and carries forward to Hastings’ farm where Zimmer spots daughter Diana Hastings (Mackenzie Davis) up to her elbow in cow. The other locals we get to know include Will Sasso and Will McLaughlin as Big Mike and Little Mike, CJ Wilson as the accommodating barkeep, Blair Sams as the eager baker, and Brent Sexton as Republican Mayor Braun. When Zimmer’s campaign for Hastings catches the eye of Ms. Brewster, we soon experience an all-out political brawl for the Mayor’s job in this tiny town … one recently made smaller by the closing of the local military base. Director Stewart labels this “Heartland USA.”
Of course, this isn’t a story about the candidates. It’s Stewart’s commentary on how campaigns are conducted today. Social media and the national news media are weapons, and we see that there’s no such thing as dirty politics … only politics. Topher Grace plays a pollster and Natasha Lyonne is in charge of analytics, and the over-dependence on data is made clear. However, the biggest point Stewart makes has to do with campaign finance and money. It’s all about the ‘Benjamins.’ The Super PAC is shoved (conveniently) to the back of the room in what Stewart terms “an election economy.”
There are plenty of Jon Stewart comedic touches on display. We get “Rhinestone Cowboy” used a couple of times, see “swing voters” listed on a first name basis, and get an advertising slogan of “a redder kind of blue.” When Faith Brewster says “I look forward to lying to you in the future”, we recognize this as prime form Stewart. The problem with political statements, political commentary, and political satire, is that people will complain it goes too far, or doesn’t go far enough, or points the finger, or doesn’t point the finger. It won’t cover what they want covered in a way they want it covered. Stewart lets neither party off here. In fact, he lays blame on both. However, given what we see and live through on a daily basis right now, Stewart’s observations come across a bit tame … we wish he had pushed harder.
The opening credits segment is brilliant with a slide show of previous campaigns accompanied by Bob Seger’s “Still the Same”, and the closing credits are worth sticking around for just to hear Trevor Potter, the former Chairman of Federal Election Commission.