April 19, 2023

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


August 18, 2022

Greetings again from the darkness. Drugs continue to destroy lives despite this being 40 years past when Nancy Reagan first counselled folks to ‘Just say no’. Not surprisingly, an ad campaign had little effect in the war against illicit drugs that immediately made people feel better (regardless of the long-term impact). Before and since that era, there have been countless films with storylines depicting the negative side of drugs – violence, gang activity, broken families, shattered dreams, failing health, and death. The drug stories that work best are those that narrow the focus and zero in on a personal story, and that’s what director Michelle Danner and screenwriter Jason Chase Tyrrell have done here.

French-Finnish actor Edouard Philipponnat (HOUSE OF GUCCI, 2021) stars as Aiden, a high school student riding high (yes, that’s a pun) thanks to the drug business he and his buddy Blake (Nadji Jeter) have carved out on campus. Aiden charms his way through school hallways mingling just long enough for business with students and even teachers. Aiden doesn’t exactly maintain a low profile by hopping in his $100k Mercedes SUV or skipping classes or showing up late and high to track practice.

Aiden’s mom (Elisabeth Rohm, AMERICAN HUSTLE, 2013) arranges to have local Detective Wall (Cameron Douglas) put a scare into him by threatening arrest. Aiden’s belligerent attitude forces an arrest, and Detective Wall offers him a deal … wear a wire for a sting on big time dealer and supplier ‘Local Legend’ (Eric Balfour), and Aiden won’t be tried as an adult. Even though he is furious at his mother, she admits this was “for his own good” and she “didn’t know what else to do.” In addition to this, Aiden is carrying the burden of an incident with his ex-girlfriend, Layla (Kerri Medders). Bottom line, Aiden is living a harrowing life and he’s on a downward spiral. He reacts by turning more to the drugs he peddles.

The crescendo occurs at a house party Aiden throws while his mom is traveling on business, although we wonder why this very nice house doesn’t have security cameras so mom can keep an eye on things. The evening doesn’t go as planned for Aiden, Local Legend, or the cops, but we do get an unexpected ending with a nice touch – and a flash of the Norman Rockwell painting, “Runaway.”

Director Michelle Danner has built a reputation as a top acting coach (and for her work on stage) and she coaxes a nice performance out of up-and-comer Philipponnat, who reminds of another actor in his age group, Charlie Plummer from LEAN ON PETE (2017). Philipponnat will next appear in Ridley Scott’s film NAPOLEON, scheduled for release in 2023. Cameron Douglas, who plays high-strung Detective Wall, is the son of Oscar winner Michael Douglas, although his mannerisms are more similar to his grandfather, legendary actor Kirk Douglas. The film breaks one of my pet peeves which is casting actors much too old for high schoolers; however, the subject matter here calls for some flexibility. Ms. Danner’s direction and Mr. Philipponnat’s performance move them both into the ‘keep an eye on’ category.

On a fun note: If you happen to be looking for a new drinking game, try the one for each time Philipponnat’s Aiden runs his fingers through his hair due to the stress of the moment.

Releasing in theaters on August 19, 2022 and on digital and On Demand on August 23, 2022