Miranda’s Victim | SLIFF 2023

Miranda’s Victim does a terrific job of shining a light on, as its title suggests, the story of Patricia Weir, a victim of serial rapist Ernesto Miranda. The case led to a landmark 1966 Supreme Court decision by which the reading of “Miranda Rights” — the rights to legal counsel and the right against self-incrimination before police questioning — to criminal suspects were federally mandated. As we know, the police officers involved in the investigation and interrogation of Miranda certainly bungled many things, but Patricia’s story has never been dramatized for mass consumption until now.

Director Michelle Danner and screenwriter J. Craig Stiles consistently texture the story with the sexism of the time. Partly thanks to this thematic thread, Patricia’s (“Trish” for short, played by Abigail Breslin) emotional struggles in her home life after the crime are shown to be just as weighty as any courtroom proceedings. Her mother Zeola (Mireille Enos) believes something occurred, but initially chalks it up to a possible courtship-gone-wrong scenario and warns Trish against pursuing justice, as it might make her “damaged goods” in the eyes of some men. Years later, after the Supreme Court case overturns Miranda’s (Sebastian Quinn) conviction and sends the case back to Arizona, Trish’s husband Charles (Josh Bowman) furthers proves the cowardly insensitivity the film explores. He’s more worried what his buddies might say than he is about justice or his wife’s well-being.

As far as the courtroom side goes, Danner and company do nice work there as well. The film overall is handsomely photographed, making great use of above-average period-piece set design and decoration. That, and the fact that the scenes in court are written quite accurately to the transcripts, lends the air of sturdy credibility any filmmaker would want when dealing with such important historical subject matter. Luke Wilson gives both casual charm and solemn dignity to his role as Lawrence Turoff, Trish’s lawyer.

The entire ensemble is quite strong. Breslin anchors the film; through her eyes we see the strong thematic underpinnings Danner and Stiles brought to the story. Enos’ role as Trish’s mother is a very challenging one, but she convinces us of why she believes what she believes, even though we might be disgusted by some of her perspectives. Emily VanCamp is Trish’s rock as her sister Ann, and Donald Sutherland lends his iconic gentle authority as Judge Laurance T. Wren, the judge in the final case.

On that note of the third case, the coda of dialogue Sutherland is given in Wren’s final statement speaks to the thesis of the entire film: that Trish was not afforded all of the same protections and privileges as her assailant. From the Supreme Court case onward, Miranda was represented by the ACLU at very little cost, while Trish’s public life and reputation were left to twist in the wind. Of course, the rights enshrined by the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision are vitally important to the functioning of our justice system, but like most everything else in American history, there’s so much more to the story. | George Napper

Miranda’s Victim is now available for rental or purchase on all leading video-on-demand platforms. The St. Louis International Film Festival 2023 continues through Nov. 19. Single film tickets are $15 for general admission, $12 for Cinema St. Louis members and students with valid current photo IDs. Further information is available here. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *