It's a lofty, but incredibly accurate, statement to say that Academy Award nominee Abigail Breslin does some of her finest work in Michelle Danner's Miranda's Victim. Having its world premiere as the opening night film during this past week's Santa Barbara International Film Festival, Miranda's Victim also finds Danner in top-notch form directing this devastating film based upon the true story of Patricia "Trish" Weir (Breslin).
In 1963, the 18-year-old Weir was kidnapped and brutally raped by Ernesto Miranda (Sebastian Quinn). While Trish's sister Ann (Emily VanCamp) believes her, her mother Zeola (Mireille Enos) has her doubts and despite Trish's overwhelming desire to fight for justice it's soon evident that she lives in a world where there's no justice to be had.
Miranda's Victim actually opens three years later, in 1966, with Trish now being married with a child when she finds out that the U.S. Supreme Court has handed down a decision mandating that police inform suspects that they have the right to remain silent.
Yeah, Ernesto Miranda is THAT Miranda.
Committed to putting her assailant in prison, Trish’s life is destroyed by America’s legal system as she triggers a law that transforms the nation.
Miranda's Victim is a perfect fit for the directorial prowess of Danner, an internationally recognized acting coach who has worked with some of the greats and who is practically the definition of an actor's director. It's clear that Danner understands every nuance of this story, an intimate story with universal impact the feels deceptively small but plays much larger.
This entire ensemble is remarkably strong from Breslin's heartbreaking and mesmerizing performance to the always reliable Donald Sutherland as Judge Wren, Emily VanCamp's terrific work as Ann, Mireille Enos's often infuriating turn as Zeola, and multiple other familiar faces who never for a moment let us forget the human impact of this devastating story.
While Miranda's Victim is an ensemble motion picture, there's little denying that Breslin owns the screen every single time she's on it.
The production design by Rick Butler and Lily Guerin immerses us in this period of time in ways that are both comfortable and jarring. Holly Amber Church's original music for the film is simply sublime, an atmospheric accompaniment that companions the film without ever dominating it. Lensing by Emmy-nominated Pierluigi Gigi Malavasi vividly captures the film's New Jersey locales that include Monmouth, Red Bank, and Monmouth University.
There's no denying that Miranda's Victim is a film with a mission. While the story by George Kolber and J. Craig Stiles occasionally, in brief moments, veers off course, Danner's direction is so disciplined and precise that she has this gifted ensemble never losing focus. Refreshingly, Miranda's Victim never plays for the drama because it's completely unnecessary. The story itself is inherently powerful and it's clear that Danner trusts her material here.
Now then, let's get back to Breslin one more time. She won our hearts, and an Academy Award nomination, as a 10-year-old in Little Miss Sunshine. Since then, Breslin has proven time and again that she's one of this generation's most dependable actresses and in Miranda's Victim she soars precisely because she doesn't simply portray Trish Weir as a rape victim. Time and again, her beautifully nuanced performance reminds us of Trish's rich humanity and she makes us feel, really feel, the depth of her wounds.
While I'm not one for trigger warnings, it's worth noting for sexual assault survivors that Miranda's Victim does occasionally flashback and the film's honest portrayal of the impact of sexual assault may make it a film best experienced with a safe companion or loved one for those who have PTSD or who are vulnerable to trauma.
Easily my favorite of Michelle Danner's films to date, Miranda's Victim wraps up its Santa Barbara International Film Festival dates this weekend and heads out for what should be a successful festival run before a likely indie/arthouse distribution.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic