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Film / An Innocent Man

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"Two Cops on the Take Just Made the Biggest Mistake of Their Lives. They Framed..."

An Innocent Man is a 1989 crime thriller film directed by Peter Yates, and starring Tom Selleck and F. Murray Abraham.

Enter James Rainwood, an airline maintenance supervisor with a perfect wife. Things take a dark turn when James decides to take a shower one night. While scrubbing himself clean, two crooked police officers get the wrong address and bash down his door. When James comes out of the bathroom wielding his hair dryer, they think it is a gun and shoot him. Realizing their mistake, they cover themselves and frame him as a drug dealer. James refuses to take a plea and he is sentenced to six years in the slammer. In the brutal prison environment, he is given a bleak collection of options in order to survive prison. After three years, James is released on parole, and he tries to pick up his life again, but the cops from before return to threaten James and his wife. Realizing that his prison lessons must be carried over into civilian life, James prepares for a final reckoning between the cops and himself.


  • Beware the Nice Ones: Parnell and Scalise see the typically mild-mannered and play-by-the-books Fitzpatrick as an ineffectual bureaucrat. Later on, Fitzpatrick almost kills Parnell with his bare hands when they threaten him, and kills Scalise in a shoot-out.
  • Black-and-Grey Morality: Unlike James, Virgil and his friends are criminals who are probably deservedly in prison. We still side with them when they take on corrupt cops Parnell and Scalise, because Virgil and his associates at least have an Honor Among Thieves sense of morality and loyalty while Parnell and Scalise are completely amoral sociopaths.
  • Clear My Name: James struggles to do this after he gets released from prison.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Virgil. Fitzpatrick at times as well.
  • Dirty Cop: Parnell and Scalise are on the take from a gangster by selectively targeting drug dealers from rival gangs. Following a drug bust at the wrong address, they frame James so that they don't get the blame. He used their dirty dealings against them in the end. They're working for a major drug kingpin by arresting competing dealers: James gets their informant to have them arrest the kingpin's men instead.
  • Frame-Up: Two dirty cops break into James' house when they get the address numbers confused with a drug dealer's, then set him up to cover their mistake.
  • Genius Bonus: James and Kate discuss the definition of punctuated equilibrium, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge's interpretation of evolutionary rates in the fossil record, as Kate prepares for a biology exam.
  • Had to Come to Prison to Be a Crook: James kills an inmate preying on him to get rid of the threat and thus "prove" himself in prison so he'll be left alone. Lampshaded when James later tells Virgil that on the outside he never did anything illegal in his life.
  • Hellhole Prison: Oroville is obviously controlled by gangs.
    Virgil: "It's an insane place with insane rules... Civil rights, brotherly love, all that gets left at the front gate."
  • Ironic Echo: Virgil rhetorically asks "How often does a con get justice?" when James explains his plight, then repeats it triumphantly to the dirty cops who put both of them in prison when they arrive there at the end of the film.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The surviving dirty cop who framed James was sent to the same prison he was in, on the same block (in Real Life most likely he would be put in protective custody).
  • Meaningful Name: James's mentor Virgil has the same name as Dante's guide through Hell.
  • Plausible Deniability: After offing Jingles:
    Lieutenant Freebery: "I know you did it, Rainwood."
    James: "I don't know anything - about anything."
  • Pragmatic Hero: James's vigilante actions tend to be just as necessary as they are vengeful. In prison, he initially attempts to remain neutral... until a sadistic inmate backs him into a corner, forcing him to kill the inmate for payback as well as survival (both in self-defense and reputation-wise). And upon being paroled, James initially decides to try and rebuild his life rather than seek revenge on the dirty cops; it isn't until they start blackmailing him (thus threatening to ruin his life once again) that he sees no choice but revenge.
  • Prison Rape: Jingles' gang threatens James with this by forcing him to watch as a younger inmate is prepared for this exact fate by members of the gang. It's this incident that spurs James (who until then had not been willing to dirty his hands with them) to take action.
  • Scary Black Man: Jingles, the leader of the gang that preys on James during his time in prison.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: After Scalise and Parnell mistakenly break into James' house instead of their intended target, they shoot James as he comes out of the bathroom holding a hair dryer.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: It's never established whether Fitzpatrick was killed, seriously injured, or just knocked out when Scalise hits him with his car after being shot.