An Innocent Man (1989)

This post is part of Movie Rob’s Genre Grandeur challenge. Jay Cluitt of the LAMB and Life vs. Film stepped in to choose the genre: Prison Films. You can read this post over at Rob’s Genre Grandeur page as well as all the other reviews by blog film critics on prison films. At any rate, here’s what I thought of An Innocent Man with Tom Selleck.



“[imdblive:plot]” -IMDB



Directed by


Written by


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IMDB Rating: [imdblive:rating]

This film stands as my favorite prison film because of the directing, acting, and story. I’ll start out with the director: Peter Yates was a renowned director long before this film. He had directed throughout the 60’s and 70’s and is probably most known in that time for his film The Deep written by Peter Benchley (Jaws). He made action movies that pulled no punches. I think he was perfect to tell this story, it’s action from credits to credits. More than that though, it gives an innocent man a challenge: How to survive time in jail.

There is some amazing acting in this film. Tom Selleck is incredible as the “oaf” happy-go-lucky man who’s simply in love and happy at his job. What better guy to pin a murder on right? Selleck transforms his almost buffoon-like happy character in a victim and then a fighter. The viewer easily lives vicariously through that character. They should have a ride at an amusement park themed after the plot. It is indeed a roller coaster but one I very much enjoyed riding.

I just want to emphasize Selleck is no bit actor in this, as some may expect him to be. He takes this role and makes it his own. The viewer is meant to be right there in prison with him planning, scheming to get out, and prove his innocence. There is one other actor I cannot leave out of my review: F. Murray Abraham. He is one of the most underrated actors of our time. I loved him in Amadeus and every time I see he’s in a film I try to see it. He has done much to demonstrate power in acting. He plays Virgil, the mentor figure of Selleck’s character. My favorite quote from him is: “Someone messes with me in here, it’s their life.”

To summarize the film: you get a vignette of a few years in prison. Danny Scalise is a happy-go-lucky married blue collar guy who gets framed for a drug job and a murder he didn’t do. We the audience see that clearly. A couple of crooked cops make a terrible mistake picking him as the fall guy and as he is arrested for the crime and is doing time, Scalise becomes much more jaded about the system and begins to exact a process of revenge. The cops end up regretting framing this “innocent man.” Mostly this is not because of who he was going into jail but after what his time there has made him.

This is not a masterpiece of the 1980’s but it sends a powerful message and stands as my favorite prison movie. While in prison, the main character must stand for himself even when it means killing. It is kill or be killed there. Because I think most people who watch movies wonder what they would do in prison to survive. You work with what you have in prison, that’s the message here. To keep your dignity you may have to do barbaric things. Those who don’t may be killed or raed within an inch of their lives, repeatedly, daily. To avoid getting attacked would you attach first? I think Selleck’s “everyman” personality and image fits perfectly in this role. Finally, it wraps just like an 1980’s movie, what’s wrong with happy endings?


By Damien Riley

Professor/Tutor/Dad/Husband/Son. My favorite horror movie is probably going to be a toss up between Tusk and Insidious. Atmospheric Horror is my favorite subgenre. I also post news articles on politics and the occasional blog post on things other than horror movies.

2 replies on “An Innocent Man (1989)”

There are few prison films as enjoyable or dare I say “entertaining” as this one. Tom Selleck was such a charming actor, you watch the film and think how can this happen to such a nice guy. But that’s the point, and why it’s such terrific casting. Like you say, the “everyman” he captures makes his plight so tragically recognizable; it’s why the revenge motif makes the film so satisfying and compelling.

I see we share a love for this film. I’ve seen it numerous times. It’s sort of like a more gritty Shawshank on one level but certainly not the same type of ironic/dramatic only Stephen King could produce.

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