Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent Is a Gripping, Pot-Boilery Thriller

Dept. of Murder Most Foul


Presumed Innocent on Apple Plus TV doesn’t quite feel like the Presumed Innocent you may be familiar with, but that’s not necessarily a problem. Adapted from Scott Turow’s 1987 bestseller (it was also a Harrison Ford movie in 1990), this one stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Rusty Sabich, a Chicago prosecutor and family man, who becomes a suspect in the murder of his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, with whom he also had an extramarital affair. This latest adaptation also boasts David E. Kelley as its creator, whose long track record with legal thrillers like Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal, and L.A. Law, have made him a household name when it comes to the genre.

Set against the backdrop of a Chicago that’s steeped in blue grain, the eight-episode limited series is courtroom TV at its best: fast-paced and gripping from the get-go. While it clearly favors telling over showing – by shoving information right at viewers instead of letting them sit with their thoughts – it is an approach that works here considering the numerous characters and twists introduced within each episode. This one really doesn’t want you to catch a break. 

Presumed Innocent

The cast is stacked. But the characters they play are a little different.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Rusty Sabich, for example, isn’t the one we remember. While Harrison Ford’s take on the character was more collected and reserved, Jake Gyllenhaal is desperate, emotionally driven, and makes rash decisions that sometimes lead to violence. The script doesn’t go easy on Rusty – just when there’s a clearer view of his innocence, another incriminating detail drips out and steers the narrative once again, constantly leaving us on edge. And Gyllenhaal channels all of that into a very believable spiral.

The marvelous Bill Camp makes for a really convincing defense attorney in Raymond Horgan. The choice to make Raymond a friend rather than a foe, coupled with Camp’s solid performance, makes him a character worth rooting for. Also, seeing Camp’s real-life wife, Elizabeth Marvel, play his on-screen wife, Lorraine Horgan, is a joy, and their scenes together provide a tiny breather from the show’s intensity.

Meanwhile, Renate Reinsve’s portrayal of Carolyn Polhemus has more of a humane touch, and is less of a femme fatale figure. Reinsve captivates with each of her appearances and manages to offer a strong glimpse into Carolyn’s character despite her limited lines and screen time. Unfortunately, most of her scenes are relegated to flashy, steamy flashbacks from Rusty’s point of view.

The standout here, however, is Peter Sarsgaard, who delivers yet another blood boiling performance. He perfectly captures the grimace needed for a snobby and somewhat sociopathic character like Tommy Molto. It’s chilling just looking at his smile.

Presumed Innocent

Adapting Presumed Innocent as a series does allow for an expanded premise and a deeper exploration of character. Particularly noteworthy is the power-play between the attorneys and the prosecutors. With their egos on the line, their trials and investigations are driven by personal agendas and vendettas, making the story more compelling and complex. The stellar cast excels at delivering seething hatred to one another through sarcastic bickering and cold glances, adding more depth and interest beyond merely being a whodunnit.

Adding too many new elements, however, does come with its own set of issues, as not every narrative thread receives adequate attention. Subplots involving side characters lack depth and remain unresolved. Like Lily Rabe’s therapist character and Ruth Negga’s Barbara Sabich and her exploration of infidelity. While these arcs do progress, they don’t really lead anywhere significant or contribute substantially to the overall story. 

Presumed Innocent

Ultimately, Presumed Innocent plays it safe, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s safe because it adheres to a format that caters well to a modern audience, with updated characters, and rapid pacing. I’d argue that the key to a good legal thriller is keeping the audience engaged and coming back weekly, which the show certainly achieves. Although not entirely faithful to its source material, these fresh twists and deviations do come in handy, as they manage to bring something new to the table for fans of the book and film.

This adaptation of Presumed Innocent did make me question whether or not we need such loose adaptations? Should these even be called adaptations if more than half of the content diverges from the original material? Such ponderings aside, this is still excellent television. Presumed Innocent offers one hell of a ride. But it’s best enjoyed if you snooze the comparison button in your head.

Presumed Innocent is now streaming on Apple TV Plus.

Sue Ann can often be found watching a movie in bed or writing reviews on Letterboxd like it’s her daily blog. She can probably recite the script of Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird from memory as a party trick. Mention any slasher or horror franchises to her and she’d likely keep the conversation going endlessly.

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