Toronto 2018 Review: THE ACCUSED Offers Compelling Character Study and Little Else
A fuzzy mystery that is bolstered by lead Lali Espósito and compelling cameo from Gael García Bernal
The Accused is first and foremost a character study, one surrounded by a hazy stasis of implication and culpability, a mystery on hold. The last person to see her best friend alive is also the number one suspect for her murder, yet Dolores Dreier (Lali Espósito) pleads not guilty. The years drag by and the trial finally arrives.
The Accused starts here, with liberal flashbacks to what may or may not have transpired, the recollections all in the eye of the beholder. Dolores lives with her supportive family, desperate to clear her name, but the scope never strays from her perspective. The upper-middle class abode she lives in is a lackadaisical life, she is just existing, trapped in a shrinking space. Did she do it? Did she kill her friend? This is not the main concern of The Accused, which is often to its detriment when the non-mystery elements of her life begin to drag.
Regardless Dolores Dreier, a surname you will hear repeated many times in the courtroom scenes, is a beguiling figure. There is a troubled darkness to her, and throughout the film you learn enough, but the question of her guilt eludes and evades. Her alluring pouts and longing stares, both icy cold and genuinely concerned leave little clue as to her inner workings.
As the trial approaches, her life is invaded by media entities, her family attorney has coached her on what to say and do, and her father supports this. Perhaps they do not believe her, and are now just looking for a not guilty verdict. The film certainly suggests this. To promote her innocence the family arrange a popular talk show host to grill Dolores.
This is a disarming scene that is fueled by a great cameo with Gael García Bernal as the interviewer. He plays power games, hitting Dolores with relentless questions. Domestic life and dry court room drama are enlivened by this central scene, but nothing can save the dull and long conversations Dolores has with her boyfriend. These pointless scenes take a lot away from the mystery, character building and momentum of The Accused.
As this is a clinical, psychological murder mystery the aesthetic has to resonate these grim themes. The Accused nails it from the opening moments; disarming music choices, drained, numb and quiet domestic family scenes, stilted conversations where the machinations of what the characters are thinking become more important than what they are saying. Each scene is blue-tinged, a drop of digital flair and reminiscent of a David Fincher film, the close and tight cinematography scrutinizes Dolores, probing her every expression.
The Accused is a slow-burn drama that puts to the side its primary concern. It is a unique take on a murder mystery, one that puts the suspect front and center, but drops all judgment as we merely observe her. Unfortunately the pacing is too languid, with repeated drawn out scenes that take some of the impact away from this compelling character drama. Pay close attention to the uncanny news story at the beginning of The Accused however, and perhaps the answers are there after all.