Back in the mid 80’s the actor Tom Selleck was just about the hottest celebrity on Television with the success of the TV Series Magnum PI . Everybody thought that he should easily be able to parlay that success into being a huge movie star, even after he supposedly turned down the starring role in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” which came out in 1981. After some failed attempts at being a movie actor with movie such as Lasiter and Runaway Selleck finally got the movie role of a lifetime with An Innocent Man , which came out in 1989. This great movie is a story about an innocent man who works as a repairman for Jet Aircraft and one day inside his own house he is mistaken for a drug dealer and then shot because he is holding a hair dryer. After this, the criminal and corrupt police officers frame him and stage a shooting, making it look like he shot at the police officers with an illegal gun he had in his possession as he lay wounded on the floor of his bathroom unconscious . What follows is years in prison and the attempts of his wife, played by Laila Robbins to get him out and dealing with the corrupt two cops who framed her husband.
In all my years of movie going I have never seen a movie more realistic in terms of the nightmare of being in prison with animals when you have done nothing wrong. This movie also depicts the very harsh reality of the rules of prison which include the drugs, gang rape and murder which as commonplace as getting coffee in the outside world. Selleck’s character in this movie, Jimmie Rainwood soon finds out that survival and the laws of the outside world do not apply inside a low level prison. Within the first few weeks of Rainwood’s illegal incarceration, he finds out that he has to “stand up and take care of business”, which means murdering the head of a black gang in order to avoid being as they all called it “someones kid”. Rainwood is schooled on what to do and how to take care of business in prison by a prisoner who befriends him named Virgil Cane played expertly by F. Murray Abraham in what I consider one of this best roles. Their friendship and interaction during this movie is the best part of the whole story and they both were incarcerated by the same two corrupt police officers. After Cane instructs Rainwood and expertly organizes the plan to take care of business and kill the head of the black gang and what follows is an incredible scene in a large bathroom and a shiv with about as much drama and tension as I have ever seen in any movie. This one scene and the events leading up to it maintain a level of tension that is similar and maybe even exeeds the movie Heat which came out in 1995. This is what movies are all about and when they work this well they should be recognized. In my opinion, this movie with this gritty realism, tension, injustice and revenge is one of the best movies ever made and is largely unrecognized.
The last part of this movie is about Rainwood getting out of prison and then revenge against the two police officers who ruined his life that is one of the best conclusions to a movie I have ever seen. Revenge is always sweet and in the case of these two dirty criminal lowlife police officers, the revenge in this movie is one of the best final scenes of “getting even” ever produced. Many people would rather die than go to prison for any length of time, most especially if they are innocent and after seeing this movie you would definitely rather die than go through what Rainwood went through in this story. This movie also makes you think about all the people in this country unjustly imprisoned perhaps even for the same reason of corrupt police officers and this fact just adds to the believably of this story. There are several lines in this movie that stand up and are still memorable to this day; “you ain’t got to stand tall in here but you sure better stand up!” and F. Murray Abraham’s line when he started to teach Rainwood the way of the world in prison “Its simple in here, anybody fucks with me and its their life” and his final line at the very end of this movie, “Aint life a motherfucker”.
If you have never seen An Innocent Man, you owe it to yourself to see it as it is quite simply a great movie.