PRESUMED INNOCENT Review: Murder, Without a Doubt

Jake Gyllenhaal, Ruth Negga, and Peter Sarsgaard star in David E. Kelley's new adaptation of Scott Turow's murder mystery, debuting on Apple TV+.

Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)
PRESUMED INNOCENT Review: Murder, Without a Doubt

Do you think you can get away with murder, just because you're a lawyer?

Presumed Innocent
The first two episodes debut Wednesday, June 12, exclusively on Apple TV+ worldwide. Subsequent episodes will debut every Wednesday. I've seen the first seven episodes.

As attorney Rusty Sabich, the city of Chicago's chief deputy prosecutor, Jake Gyllenhaal carries his body with athletic strength and dramatic precision, coiled like a python waiting to strike.

When he learns that his colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) has been found dead, he is shaken. Reluctantly, he accepts an assignment by his boss, State's Attorney Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp), to lead the investigation, with the goal of quickly identifying the culprit in order to satisfy the electorate and perhaps ward off the challenge he faces in the impending election, in which Horgan faces opposition from two of his prosecutors, Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle) and Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard).

The first episode is highly-charged and filled with the type of feisty energy and nasty attorney-on-attorney verbal bickering that called to mind the fourth season of television's L.A. Law in 1989, when writer and co-producer David E. Kelley became an executive producer, and the dialogue became crisper, saltier (for network television of the time) and far less polite. It sizzled, which caught my ear and made me an instant fan of David E. Kelley.

Over the past 35 years, former practicing attorney Kelley has only deepened a creative well that finds new ways to say the same things, only sharper and (mostly) better. He is wildly prolific, and his work can be uneven, but usually it's tangy and madly entertaining. His recent adaptation, A Man in Full, taken from Tom Wolfe's novel, is now streaming on Netflix.

First published in 1987, Presumed Innocent, a novel by Scott Turow, former Assistant U.S. Attorney in Chicago, was adapted by Frank Pierson for the big screen and released in 1990. Directed by Alan Pakula, the movie starred Harrison Ford as Rusty Sabich and Greta Scacha as Carolyn Polhemus.

The narrative veered from the novel in several significant ways, which is a good setup for the new adaptation, with the first two episodes written by David E. Kelley and directed by Anna Sewitsky (Happy, Happy, 2010; A Very British Scandal, 2021). The setup is similar, in that Rusty Sabich is a dedicated attorney who fell into an affair with Carolyn Polhemus, which ended the year before, and has repaired his marriage to Barbara (Ruth Negga).

Rusty and Barbara have a loving relationship with their two teen children (up from one son in the movie), which is all imperiled when secrets are revealed and Rusty is accused of murdering Carolyn by new State's Attorney, Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle), who has appointed Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard) as the new chief deputy prosecutor and assigned him to Rusty's case. As demonstrated early on, Rusty and Tommy already have a longtime contentious relationship, and things will only get worse.

The 1990 movie was good but not great, and Kelley and his fellow writers have plotted out a variety of new twists and turns that justify the episodic nature of the show, which allows them to get much deeper into the disastrous effects that a murder charge has on the other members of Rusty's family, namely, Barbara and the children, who each react somewhat differently to the pressures and tensions that arise.

Not all of the changes are necessarily entirely justified or even logical, yet they all have merit, to one degree or another, and they are different from both the novel and the big-screen adaptation. The extended length also allows more space for the actors, especially Ruth Negga as a wife who sticks around far longer than might be expected, and gives room for her to reflect her character's shifting moods and attitudes toward her husband and on behalf of her children.

Jake Gyllenhall is, perhaps, over-amped, but it establishes him as a volatile character who is largely unpredictable. Peter Sarsgaard is quite incredible as an attorney with a great deal of blistering anger, balanced with emotional strength; he has packed it all down into a tiny cube of his soul, and he can't wait to let it wail. My only reservation is that Renate Reinsve is not given much to do.

Apple TV+ only supplied the first seven (of eight) episodes, and I can't wait to see how things are resolved, which I'm fairly certain will be strikingly different from either the novel or the movie. All's fair in love and legal battles, especially when written and/or produced by David E. Kelley.

Presumed Innocent

  • Jake Gyllenhaal
  • Tate Birchmore
  • Kingston Rumi Southwick
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Apple TV+David E. KelleyJake GyllenhaalPeter SarsgaardRuth NeggaTate BirchmoreKingston Rumi SouthwickCrimeDramaMystery

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