Presumed Innocent

Presumed Innocent

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A beautiful woman found raped and murdered in her apartment. A secret investigation into police corruption. A prosecuting attorney who finds himself in the dock. Presumed Innocent has all the ingredients of classic noir and plays out as a courtroom drama that hinges on the complexity of its characters.

Adapted by Frank Pierson from Scott Turow's debut novel. Himself a lawyer, Turow rooted his story in the detail of courtroom procedure, giving it solidity and intrigue. Pierson gives it personality, but the real key is the central performance by Harrison Ford. 48 at the time of filming and fresh off Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Ford was at a point in his career where he was (temporarily) ready to say goodbye to his action hero days and seek out more challenging roles. In prosecutor Rusty Sabich he gives us a hero who is deeply conflicted, almost to the point of being unlikeable, obsessive and often unpleasant, yet whose desperation when unjustly accused attracts viewer loyalty. He's a difficult man but very human, somebody we can identify with when his whole existence is under threat.

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Rusty's obsession centres on Carolyn (Great Scacchi), a colleague whose high principles he finds daunting even as her ambition impresses him. Fortunately for him, her principles don't forbid her from sleeping with a married man, but unfortunately she is really out of his league and soon grows bored with their affair. Scacchi, who was sadly never able to capitalise on the brief stardom this role gave her, was celebrated for her sex appal in the role but actually delivers an impressive performance in other ways, giving what could have been a cardboard cut-out femme fatale real personhood. Carolyn is going to the top and doesn't care whose ego she has to crush to get there, but she's going to the top because she wants to help the vulnerable and challenge a corrupt system. As it turns out, she's already working on the latter, and Rusty finds himself wondering if this could be the reason she was murdered.

Once he's framed, Rusty's cover-up of the affair becomes an albatross around his neck, but the film doesn't follow the usual route of forcing him to solve the crime to clear his name - it's more slippery than that. Whilst the drama in the courtroom focuses on clever cross-examination (Raul Julia shines as always) and analysis of the evidence, the real focus of the film is on the theme of innocence. Rusty may not be guilty of murder but he is guilty of cheating on his wife, of harassing Carolyn, of concealing their affair from the court and of generally putting his own well being ahead of anybody else's (raising questions about why this is more acceptable for him than it is for Carolyn). Can he really be seen as an innocent? Is his suffering the natural consequence of his earlier moral failings?

Though it's slow and stilted in places and though the otherwise finely-judged ending is a little too heavily signposted, Presumed Innocent remains one of the most gripping courtroom dramas of the Nineties and essential viewing for Ford fans.

Reviewed on: 24 Jul 2012
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A prosecutor finds himself in the frame when the woman he was having a secret affair with is murdered.
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Director: Alan J Pakula

Writer: Frank Pierson, based on the book by Scott Turow.

Starring: Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Greta Scacchi, Brian Dennehy, Bonnie Bedelia, Joe Grifasi

Year: 1990

Runtime: 127 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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