Flashback Five – The Moviegoer’s Guide to Getting Out of a False Arrest

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If you haven’t touched a television or newspaper in the past few days, you may have missed the story about Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates Jr., who was arrested for trying to break into his own house. (Thanks, neighbors!) And now, with even President Obama weighing in on the fray, what better time to look back on the cinema’s long history with false arrests? Read on for inspiration as to the best methods of resistance — but remember, you didn’t read it here.

1. The Hurricane (1999)
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was falsely accused of a triple homicide and imprisoned for twenty years, both in real life and in this riveting biopic. Carter was unable to prove his innocence, and instead tapped out a book about his experiences, which eventually led to his release and exoneration. Gates might not have enough material for a book, but we can certainly look forward to an intelligent, scholarly critique. Probably not the smartest person to racially profile, Cambridge police.

2. The Green Mile (1999)
This sad Frank Darabont drama explores the flip side of what can happen when a man is falsely accused: As an innocent man arrested for rape and murder, gentle giant John Coffey (Michael Clark Duncan) doesn’t have it in him to resist, and things are never the same. There’s a valuable lesson here though: If you happen to have a flair for curing brain tumors and bringing mice back to life, as Coffey does, by all means use it to get those sadistic guards on your side!

3. The Crucible (1996)
Arthur Miller’s classic play about wrongful accusation got a sexy updating in 1996 featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and Winona Ryder. When a case of love potion-creating in 1692 is mistaken for Satan-y witchcraft, an entire town gets up in arms accusing each other of making deals with the Devil. Though the play and movie are metaphors for McCarthyism, one of the basic lessons of the movie is, “look at the facts,” something that certainly could have prevented Gates from being arrested in the first place.

4. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
Tim Robbins is arrested for the murder of his wife and sentenced to consecutive life sentences in the movie that is probably first in moviegoers minds when they think of the phrase “false arrest.” Robbins goes quietly, but he’s unable to defend himself due to circumstantial evidence, and instead breaks verrrry slowly out of prison using a tiny rock hammer and a Rita Hayworth poster. Surely a life in academia would have given Gates the patience to attempt a similar feat.

5. The Fugitive (1993)
If there’s another movie that’s first in moviegoers’ minds when they think of “false arrest,” it’s probably Harrison Ford in this big screen adaptation of the Fugitive TV show. Ford instantly goes on the lam, kicking off a high-octane manhunt that culminates in Ford standing on the side of a dam shouting, “I didn’t do it!,” followed by Tommy Lee Jones’ law-man responding, “I don’t care!” In this scenario, all Gates would have had to do is jump off his porch (far less cinematic), but there would be no reason for him to do that in the first place because, you know, it was his house and all.

Honorable Mentions:

1. Les Miserables (1995) -
Liam Neeson portrayed a non-singing, non-dancing Jean Valjean who
submits to arrest and a fifteen-year prison sentence in the 1995
adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel. Is stealing a loaf of bread to feed
your children an arrestable offense? Yup, it is.

2. Demolition Man (1993) -
Sylvester Stallone is accused of killing a school full of hostages,
when it was really Wesley Snipes the whole time! He’s sentenced to
cryo-prison, which according to the movie’s timeline, we all won’t have
to worry about until 1996. Oh, wait.

3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) -
Kirk and McCoy are put on trial for assassinating a Klingon Ambassador,
and are sentenced to life imprisonment on an ice planet, in a clear
case of seghism. That’s Klingon for racism!

4. Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) -
Roger Rabbit responds to being handcuffed to Bob Hoskins the way any
Toon would… By morphing his arms. He just pulls those pesky cuffs
right off.

5. The Running Man (1987) -
Military man Arnold Schwarzenegger is falsely accused of killing
civilians and forced to play the titular deadly televised game show. He
responds by ramming an airplane into… Well, everyone.

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