Presumed Innocent TV Review

Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Negga lead this remake of the 1990 courtroom thriller from David E. Kelley and J.J. Abrams.

Last Updated on June 13, 2024

Presumed Innocent review

PLOT: Following chief deputy prosecutor Rusty Sabich, the series takes viewers on a gripping journey through the horrific murder that upends the Chicago Prosecuting Attorney’s office when one of its own is suspected of the crime. The series explores obsession, sex, politics, and the power and limits of love, as the accused fights to hold his family and marriage together. 

REVIEW: Everything old is new again. In 1990, Harrison Ford led the first adaptation of Presumed Innocent, based on the best-selling novel by Scott Turow. A critical success and the eighth-highest-grossing film of the year, Presumed Innocent was a masterful courtroom thriller from director Alan J. Pakula that also delivered one of the best twists ever. While it spawned two small-screen sequels, neither lived up to the original film. Over three decades later, we are getting a remake of Presumed Innocent from the one-two punch of David E. Kelley and J.J. Abrams. Led by Jake Gyllenhaal with great performances from Ruth Negga, Peter Skarsgard, Bill Camp, and more, this contemporary update of the thriller modernizes the story for a new generation with just enough changes to make it fresh while keeping the twists and turns of the source material intact. A solid thriller that blends courtroom drama, sexual tension, and great performances, Presumed Innocent is a worthy remake of an already great adaptation.

Updated to the modern day, the core story of Presumed Innocent remains the same: Chief Deputy Prosecutor Rusty Sabich (Jake Gyllenhaal) is investigating the brutal murder of his coworker Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve), with whom he had an extremely sexual affair. Hiding this fact from his colleagues, including his boss Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp), Rusty soon becomes the prime suspect when rival attorneys Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle) and Tommy Molto (Peter Skarsgard) charge Rusty with the crime. The sensationalism of the accusation becomes a media circus as Rusty’s affair is thrust into the limelight, impacting his wife Barbara (Ruth Negga) and their children. As all of Chicago looks on, the trial unfolds with revelations and twists threatening Rusty’s marriage and potential freedom. Presumed Innocent follows the trial and fallout from the eventual verdict throughout the eight-episode series.

For those who have not seen the Harrison Ford film or read the Turow novel, a quick search will give you a synopsis of what happens, but I encourage you not to spoil anything. Luckily, while the main elements of Presumed Innocent remain the same, the limited series format allows for the expansion of certain subplots while doing away with others entirely. That allows this take on the novel to feel fresh and original while not losing the intensity of the original ending. While the 1990 film featured a stellar role for Raul Julia as Rusty’s defense attorney, Alejandro “Sandy” Stern, that character is completely removed from this version. Several roles are gender-flipped, which works well as this story does away with some of the sexualized plot elements that are unnecessary in this take. That does not mean all of the sex is gone, as Gyllenhaal and Renate Reinsve still get some explicit scenes together. It removes some less savory sex scenes from the book, which may have worked in 1987 but is now unnecessary.

Presumed Innocent review

Harrison Ford’s take on Rusty Sabich was his trademark: a handsome, good guy who must redeem himself. Here, Jake Gyllenhaal is not the perfect good guy and instead is an overly confident and emotionally unstable character who may be one misstep away from a breakdown. Gyllenhaal does very solid work here and never makes Rusty out to be a fallen hero, but he does give him enough credibility to allow the audience to invest in him. Equally good is Ruth Negga as his wife, who knows about the affair and struggles to deal with the humiliation and shame of her love for her husband and her family. Equally stellar is the always excellent Bill Camp as Rusty’s boss and mentor and Gyllenhaal’s real-life brother-in-law, Peter Skarsgard. Skarsgard and Gyllenhaal have worked together twice before (Rendition, Jarhead), and the animosity they bring to their scenes here is palpable. O-T Fagbenle, Lily Rabe, Nana Mensah, Elizabeth Marvel, Renate Reinsve, Noma Dumezweni, and Gabby Beans are all fantastic in supporting roles as each episode reveals more and more of the truth behind the horrible murder that kicks off this series.

Director Greg Yaitanes (House of the Dragon, Banshee) helmed five episodes, with Anne Sewitsky (Black Mirror) on the other three. Showrunner and creator David E. Kelley, well versed in legal series ranging from Ally McBeal and Boston Legal to recent thrillers Big Little Lies, Mr. Mercedes, and The Undoing, brings little humor to this serious and dark drama. Along with writers Miki Johnson and Sharr White, Kelley and producer J.J. Abrams partner to make this Presumed Innocent fill the hole in marquee legal dramas missing from the airwaves. Too often, courtroom stories take on a procedural quality. In contrast, this series focuses on the emotional and personal impact that an affair can have on the participants and those in their inner circle. While I have not seen the eighth episode, I can confirm that my familiarity with the source material did not alter my enjoyment or attention in this adaptation, which delves further into every aspect of the case than the two-hour film could. Presumed Innocent feels like a visual novel far more than the prior adaptation.

Presumed Innocent is an excellent drama designed for adults that does not try to be a psychosexual thriller or a procedural mystery but incorporates elements of both in an engaging and emotionally powerful story. Heavy on the legal jargon and more technically focused than a John Grisham story, Scott Turow’s novel takes what could have been a pulpy tale along Disclosure or Fatal Attraction. Instead, it gets elevated from pop fiction to more, thanks to David E. Kelley’s character-centric approach. Between Presumed Innocent and Road House, Jake Gyllenhaal has shown that he is one of the most talented actors working today and can handle dramatic gravitas in equal measure with ass-kicking. This is one of Apple’s best productions and one of the better-limited series of the year.

Presumed Innocent premieres on June 12th on AppleTV+.

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Source: JoBlo.com

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Alex Maidy has been a JoBlo.com editor, columnist, and critic since 2012. A Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic and a member of Chicago Indie Critics, Alex has been JoBlo.com's primary TV critic and ran columns including Top Ten and The UnPopular Opinion. When not riling up fans with his hot takes, Alex is an avid reader and aspiring novelist.