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An Innocent Man (film)

An Innocent Man is a 1989 American crime drama thriller film directed by Peter Yates, and starring Tom Selleck. The film follows James Rainwood, an airline mechanic sent to prison when framed by crooked police officers.

An Innocent Man
Innocent man poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Yates
Produced byTed Field
Robert W. Cort
Written byLarry Brothers
Music byHoward Shore
CinematographyWilliam A. Fraker
Edited byJoseph Gutowski
Stephen A. Rotter
William S. Scharf
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • October 6, 1989 (1989-10-06)
Running time
113 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeDomestic:


James "Jimmie" Rainwood (Tom Selleck) is an ordinary and model citizen. Happily married to his beautiful wife Kate (Laila Robins), they have a modest home in Long Beach, California. Jimmie works as an expert American Airlines aeronautics engineer, supporting his wife while she's in college.

Detectives Mike Parnell (David Rasche) and Danny Scalise (Richard Young) are crooked narcotics cops who steal the drugs they seize at busts for their own recreational drug use and to sell to dealers, brutalizing or framing anyone who gets in their way. One of their regular customers for stolen drugs is Joseph Donatelli (J.J. Johnston), a high-level mobster.

One day Parnell takes a large hit of cocaine and gets confused about the address for the next drug bust, and they break into the wrong house. Just as Jimmie walks out of the bathroom with a hair dryer in hand, Parnell shoots, thinking it's a weapon. Jimmie is shot in the shoulder and knocked unconscious. Realizing that they could both be tested for taking drugs and charged, they decide to cover up their mistake. They plant drugs in the house and place a firearm in the hand of Jimmies's unconscious body, framing him as a drug dealer. Jimmie is pegged as a user, having a prior record of marijuana possession while in college, and his only defense is his word against two decorated cops. He claims the two cops framed him, but no evidence proves the men are corrupt. He gets a 6-year prison sentence. Internal Affairs detective John Fitzgerald (Badja Djola) takes an interest in the situation, though he can't do anything due to the only evidence against the corrupt officers being hearsay.

Jimmie is completely unprepared for prison life. Early in his term he sees his cellmate murdered with a screwdriver and set on fire in the prison yard. Later he has a run in with the Black Guerrilla Family run by Jingles, who grabs his commissary purchases, daring him to resist. The gang beats Jimmie senseless and he spends several weeks recuperating. Jimmie knows he can't expect help from anyone, least of all the prison authorities, who punish him for not naming his assailants. Shrewd and respected inmate Virgil Cane (F. Murray Abraham) tells him he needs to "take care of his problem" with Jingles, but Jimmie resists the pressure to kill as long as he can. After Jingles forces him to witness the gang rape of another inmate, Jimmie knows he has no choice but to act.

Jimmie gets a plexiglas shank and stabs Jingles to death, with Virgil acting as lookout. The authorities know Jimmie did the killing but since they can't prove it, he spends three months in a windowless, subterranean solitary confinement. When he's released to the general population he is received as a minor hero for ridding the prison of Jingles. On the outside, Kate is causing trouble by pleading for a review of the case from anyone who might be able to help and is subsequently threatened by Parnell and Scalise. A visit with Fitzgerald goes nowhere, but when she angrily insults him, saying the two crooked cops are laughing at him, he's irritated and suspicious enough to confront Parnell and Scalise and demand that they leave her alone.

Before being paroled after three years served, Virgil suggests to Jimmie that he should take advantage of his prison contacts to get even with the detectives that framed him. But Jimmie just wants to regain his life on the outside and joyfully reunites with Kate. Prison life has hardened him and he warns Kate that in some ways, she no longer knows him. When he comes home to find Scalaise and Parnell in his living room, threatening him and Kate, Jimmie realizes their lives will never be their own while the detectives continue to hound them. Jimmie hates that his wife has been dragged into this violent world but she insists that she does know him, a good man who is only doing what he must. Kate visits Virgil in prison and asks for his help in getting evidence on the corrupt cops that the police can't ignore.

Virgil's outside contacts scam Parnell and Scalise into busting some "competition" that are in reality protected dealers of Donatelli. Fearing both Donatelli and Fitzgerald, the two cops only turn in a fraction of the seized drugs and decide to take the remaining huge haul out of state to start new lives, away from the threat of the mob and the law. Before they can leave town, they are robbed by masked "thieves", Jimmie and Malcolm (M.C. Gainey), another friend of Virgil. Malcolm calls the detectives and says he will swap the drugs for cash, Fitzgerald having finally been convinced to wire Jimmie and Malcolm to record the sting. In the middle of the handoff, Parnell attacks Malcolm and Jimmie is forced to hand over the drugs. Malcolm is shot and killed by Parnell. Fitzgerald then informs Parnell and Scalise that they have been busted and that they are about to be apprehended, however neither of them go down without a fight. Scalise attempts to run down Fitzgerald and Fitgerald fires his weapon to defend himself. Scalise dies after crashing his car while trying to escape. Fitzgerald is injured in the confrontation and Jimmie chases Parnell, beating him bloody until Parnell pulls a knife. Jimmie wrests the knife away from Parnell and has the blade at his throat until Kate, who has been acting as the driver, begs Jimmie not to kill him and let the law take over. Jimmie eventually walks away from Parnell, who is then placed under arrest by his soon-to-be former colleagues.

The movie ends with Kate and Jimmie returning to a life they both deserve. Parnell, now a convict, is put into the general prison population. On entry to the prison tiers, Virgil calls attention to Parnel by yelling, "Hey, officer!" for all the other inmates to hear. Parnell, his face frozen in fear, looks up to the balcony where Virgil is smirking down at him. Jimmie is seen suited up and working again for the airline, finally getting his life back.



Peter Yates later recalled, he "wasn't sure at all" about the script when he first read it. "I was worried about the violence. But what struck me was the quality of the writing in the prison scenes and the accurate observation of prison life. This seemed to me to be something I hadn't seen on the screen in a lot of prison movies." He said he also loved "what I call 'experience films.' By that I mean films that are about somebody caught up in one of those situations where you're left feeling, 'there but for the grace of God go I'."[2]


  1. ^ "An Innocent Man (1989)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved July 15, 2011.
  2. ^ Disney bags Bullitt director; An Innocent Man latest turn for eclectic Yates Edmonton Journal 11 Oct 1989: C14.

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