A riveting mix of legal drama and suspense thriller based on the best selling novel by Scott Turow.
Directors: Alan J. Pakula
Producers: Sydney Pollack Mark Rosenberg Susan Solt
Writers: Scott Turow (novel) Frank Pierson Alan J. Pakula
Features: Widescreen & Standard Format, Interactive Menus, Cast & Crew, Production Notes, Theatrical Trailer, Scene Access, Languages and Subtitles (French & Spanish)
Rusty Sabich - Harrison Ford
Raymond Horgan - Brian Dennehy
Sandy Stern - Raul Julia
Barbara Sabich - Bonnie Bedelia
Judge Larren Lyttle - Paul Winfield
Caroline Polhemus - Greta Scacchi
Detective Lipranzer - John Spencer
In this 1990 thriller, Harrison Ford plays a prosecuting attorney accused of murder. Directed by Alan Pakula, who also produced, this slick legal drama investigates not only the murder of Ford’s co-counsel, but also the validity of the legal system. As Ford narrates in the film’s intro, he is a part of a business that accuses, judges and punishes based on the determination of a jury of peers. But what if this jury cannot determine guilt? “If they cannot find the truth, what is our hope of justice?”
Pakula, as director or producer, is not new to legal dramas. He’s had several spanning a career beginning in the late ‘50s. Sandwiched between his award winning political tales that include “All The President’s Men” and “The Pelican Brief”, Pakula also managed to raise critic’s and Oscar’s eyebrows with emotional gems such as “Sophie’s Choice.” “Presumed Innocent” represents in one film the ability of Pakula to shift easily from emotional drama to legal drama and back.
The story follows prosecutor Rusty Sabich who is assigned to investigate the violent murder of fellow prosecutor Caroline Polhemus. Rusty, who had an affair with Caroline and is still reeling from its recent and sudden end, becomes the prime suspect when their relationship is unearthed and it’s discovered that Caroline recently began an affair with Rusty’s boss, the district attorney. In a mad dash to prove his own innocence, Rusty discovers some shady dealings in his own office, leading him to question is relationship with Caroline, the character of his District Attorney superior, and eventually his place in the legal system. What truly differentiates this film from any other legal drama is the moral undercurrent. Here is a man who, throughout his career, has relied heavily on the notion that he is justice; he is the catalyst that changes the presumption of innocence to the determination of guilt. Now faced with the challenge of proving his innocence, he sees his profession from the position of the defendant’s chair. He must come to terms with his understanding that even if he did not murder Caroline, he may ultimately be responsible for her death. But, is this responsibility something that a jury of your peers can sentence you for? Is there moral justice when there is not legal justice?
Harrison Ford is known and loved for portraying dualistic characters. Evidence can be seen in the Indiana Jones saga where Jones is one minute a mild-mannered college professor, and the next a suave and witty (sometimes bungling) adventurer. In “Presumed Innocent” he again plays a role with an evolving character moving from self-assurance to insecurity a la Han Solo. While the role may not be a stretch, Ford nonetheless surprises with his ability to project the horror of injustice and the inner turmoil that accompanies the loss of beliefs and loved ones. His narration, which only runs in the opening and ending credits, displays the evolution of his character. His voice changes from strong and convincing to ragged and emotional.
As his wife Bonnie Bedelia is insecure and quiet, perhaps in response to Ford’s overbearing attorney attitude. If anything, I would say her character is the least investigated, which perhaps was necessary for the film, but disappointing nonetheless. Pakula spent more time revealing the murdered attorney’s character in flashbacks than he did with the housewife coming to terms with her husband’s infidelity and possible incarceration. I feel he did this to disguise the character, which perhaps wasn’t the most entertaining technique.
The gem in this film is Raul Julia as Rusty’s defense attorney Sandy Stern. When Rusty uncovers past indiscretions by the presiding judge over his case, Stern reveals not only knowledge of the judge’s history, but also a personal understanding of the man. You imagine that Stern is what Rusty will become: a lawyer with a heavy respect for the legal system, but also an understanding of the nature of man. Stern has already come to terms with the notion that perhaps some justice does not occur in the courtroom, but on a more personal level. An excellent actor with a commanding presence, I’m sure Julia is sorely missed in Hollywood.
John Williams’ score is haunting. While I tend to visualize most of Williams’ music with falling stars, this score seems to reverberate like a heartbeat. It slows and crescendos continuously promising some sort of revelation, which I feel is appropriate to the story line.
Originally released in 1997, the DVD features are limited. They include a Cast List with filmographies, Production notes with quotes from director Pakula, and an unusual R-rated theatrical trailer, something not seen often in today’s theaters.