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Gripping Character-Driven Thriller
JamesHitchcock12 June 2005
When Carolyn Polhemus, a young prosecutor employed by the District Attorney of an American city, is found murdered, the job of investigating her murder is given to Rusty Sabich, one of her colleagues and her former lover. The DA, who is shortly coming up for re-election, wants quick results, but Sabich seems to be making slow progress. The DA is defeated in the election, and Sabich finds himself arrested by his successor and charged with the murder. The evidence against him initially seems strong, but more questions emerge during his trial. Is he really guilty? Is someone trying to frame him? If so, who? Was the murder connected to an investigation which Carolyn was pursuing into judicial corruption? Or was it connected to her complex sex life? We learn, through flashbacks, the story of her affair with Sabich and that she was promiscuous, sleeping with a number of influential men who could help her career, including not only Sabich but also the DA himself.

Besides being a legal thriller, "Presumed Innocent" is also a study in contrasts in character- either contrasts between two different persons or between the inner and outer person. Harrison Ford is often good at playing rather stolid individuals who have difficulty in showing their feelings but whose impassive exterior can hide powerful emotions. Norman Spencer in "What Lies Beneath" was one such individual; Sabich is another. Both are men whose life spins out of control after they become involved in extramarital affairs. Fortunately for Sabich, he has someone to take control on his behalf, his smooth and fluent defence lawyer Sandy Stern. Ford and Raul Julia, who plays Stern, form a double act in the second half of the film, both playing their parts very well. Sabich and Stern are both lawyers, but with very different characters and different approaches to the law. Sabich is determined to tell the truth as he sees it; the wily Stern sees the law as a game to be won on behalf of his client rather than a search for truth. If winning involves preventing the truth from emerging, so be it.

There is also a contrast between Sabich and his former lover Carolyn. While he is undemonstrative but inwardly emotional, she is outwardly seductive and flirtatious but inwardly cold-hearted. Both Sabich's wife Barbara, seemingly noble and forgiving, and the judge who tries his case, may have hidden secrets. Raymond Horgan, the DA, initially seems to be a friend of Sabich, but later turns against him when his self-interest dictates.

This concentration on character pays off, raising the film above the run-of-the-mill legal thriller. Contrasts between the various characters, and their inner conflicts, give rise to a gripping courtroom drama, one of the best in recent years. The pace of the film never flagged, and it held my attention throughout. The ending (which I will not reveal) has been criticised as either predictable or implausible. In my view it was perhaps unlikely, but neither completely unbelievable nor inconsistent with what has gone before. I certainly did not predict it. This is a tense and watchable drama. 7/10
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Exciting Courtroom Drama
senortuffy28 February 2004
This is a very good film centering around a murder investigation and trial involving a chief deputy DA and a beautiful, young attorney in his office who is found murdered one morning. The direction, screenplay, and acting are all top notch and you never really know how it's going to turn out til the very end.

Harrison Ford is the deputy DA accused of murdering one of the female attorneys in his office. Ford's character is that of a strident upholder of the law who strays into marital infidelity. Caroline Polhemus, played by Greta Scacchi, is beautiful and manipulative, using her sexuality to get what she wants, career advancement and power.

Ford is assigned to head the murder investigation team, however, his boss, played by Brian Dennehy, loses his re-election bid a few weeks later and the new district attorney charges Ford with Caroline's murder. He knows Ford had had an affair with the victim and has physical evidence that he was at the murder scene and had been placing phone calls to her apartment in the days prior to her death.

The continuing investigation by Harrison Ford's team of lawyers and his friends in the DA's office and the trial highlight the remainder of this film. Events take strange twists and turns and the viewer is taken along for the ride without really knowing where it will take him. The ending is a bit of a surprise and neatly ties everything together.

The direction by Alan J. Pakula is tight and suspenseful. I thought it was his best film since the early days when he directed "Klute" and "The Parallax View" - certainly better than the muddled "Pelican Brief." The overriding theme of the movie is darkness, people hiding secrets from one another, and the direction emphasizes that. There are very few outdoor daytime scenes and most of the interior shots are of dark rooms and corridors.

Harrison Ford is good in the role of the besieged deputy DA, but I thought the secondary actors were the ones who made this picture as good as it was. Raul Julia plays Ford's attorney defending him in court and he's excellent (I thought it was his best role in any film). He's urbane and confident, and he steers the defense through a very difficult set of circumstances.

Bonnie Bedelia plays Ford's wife and her character is much more complex than that of the supportive wife standing by her man. She also has dark secrets of her own and she plays the part with sly understatement. John Spencer ("L.A. Law") plays an investigator in the DA's office helping Ford, Brian Dennehy plays Ford's boss who turns on him, and Paul Winfield plays the judge handling the trial, and all are excellent.

My only criticisms would come from Harrison Ford's character, who is so emotionally detached that it makes the circumstances of the affair with Greta Scacchi unbelievable. He's not an easy person to identify with or feel sympathy for, but the film is so well done that you can easily skip over that void and just sit back and enjoy the performances.
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Presume Nothing
gcd701 June 2007
From Scott Turow's successful novel came this tense drama about a man accused of the rape and murder of a legal colleague with whom he had previously had an affair.

Alan J. Pakula's direction, along with strong performances by Harrison Ford, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Brian Dennehy and all the other supporting cast, contribute strongly to a film that keeps you guessing until the very end; which by the way, will shock the sox off ya.

This is a thriller that never gets out of hand, or goes over the top. All credit to Alan J. Pakula and Frank Pierson's adaptation. Great down to earth stuff.

Sunday, June 16, 1991 - Video
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Excellent criminal law thriller
DeeNine-223 August 2003
As a thriller this is top notch; as any kind of a movie it is also top notch. Based on Scott Turow's best-selling novel of the same name (his first), it relies on a well-coordinated directorial effort by Alan J. Pakula (Sophie's Choice 1982, All the President's Men 1976, Klute 1971, etc.), a fine script by Frank Pierson (whose credits include Cool Hand Luke 1967, Dog Day Afternoon 1975, A Star Is Born 1976, etc.), and an experienced, talented and well-directed cast headed by Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Greta Scacchi and Paul Winfield.

Ford plays Rusty Sabich, a prosecutor compromised by his sexual obsession with a fellow prosecutor, Caroline Polhemus (Scacchi) who is found murdered as the film opens. We see her in flashback as a conniving mantrap who uses her wiles to further her career. Sabich is assigned to the case by his boss, Raymond Horgan (Dennehy) who is up for reelection. Sabich would like to recuse himself but Horgan demands that he take the case and get the perp "yesterday" otherwise they will all be out a job because he will lose the election. Bedelia, looking particularly beguiling, plays Sabich's sexually frustrated and deeply hurt wife, Barbara.

When the election is lost the new prosecutors arrest Sabich and charge him with murder. He is defended by the very smooth Raul Julia who plays defense attorney Sandy Stern. Paul Winfield, in a somewhat flamboyant style, plays Judge Larren Lyttle.

Because Scott Turow knows the way the law works in practice as well as in theory, he having been a lawyer before he became a best-selling writer, we are treated to wood paneled intrigues and courtroom theatrics that have the unmistakable feel of authenticity. The dialogue is veracious and the character cross-currents vividly real. Ford gives what I think is one of his best performances as a man tormented by his infidelity and caught in a vise of circumstance largely stemming from that infidelity. Dennehy is a big-mouthed and big-headed politician in the familiar Windy City style. Raul Julia's Sandy Stern is cosmopolitan and brilliant, cynical and slick, a kind of Latin Johnny Cochran. Bedelia, whom I recall best as Shirley Muldowney in Heart Like a Wheel (1983) manages a delicate (and slightly unbelievable) persona with just the right amount of forbearance so that when the surprise ending comes we almost believe it.

I say "almost," but you might want to judge for yourself.

See this for Harrison Ford who plays a foolish and morally compromised man with just the sort of right stuff and disarming vulnerability we've come to expect from one of Hollywood's most popular leading men.

(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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Never presume anything
Altaira1 July 1999
Since it's Harrison Ford on trial for the murder of his coworker/mistress, and most everyone loves Harrison Ford, you want to believe he's innocent. But that belief is never a sure thing in "Presumed Innocent": a gripping, suspenseful whodunit that keeps you guessing mercilessly. All the leads here are right on target, especially Ford as the mumbling, elusive murder defendant. Most importantly, all the main players are ambiguous in one way or another, and while I certainly will not give away the ending (which is a beauty, I promise you) keep that in mind as you watch. Can you trust anyone??

The final scene was shocking and thought-provoking. And I couldn't help but think of the title, "Presumed Innocent." Naturally.
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Love - it's a killer.
Spikeopath31 May 2011
Presumed Innocent is directed by Alan J. Pakula, who also co-adapts for the screen with Frank Pierson from the Scott Turow novel. It stars Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Bonnie Bedelia, Raúl Juliá, Paul Winfield, John Spencer and Greta Scacchi. Music is scored by John Williams and Richard Wolf, and cinematography is by Gordon Willis.

Prosecuting attorney Rusty Sabich (Ford) suddenly finds himself a murder suspect after his one time lover, Carolyn Polhemus (Scacchi), is found raped and murdered in her home. As the evidence piles up against him, and his marriage comes under further strain, Rusty hires top lawyer Sandy Stern (Juliá) to represent him when the case goes to trial. Battling the system that he knows inside out, Rusty finds that there's a big can of worms about to be opened.

A tip top court room mystery drama that we could do with seeing more of these days. Expertly strung together by the director of All the Presidents Men and Sophie's Choice, Presumed Innocent isn't just a by the numbers legal who done it? The makers get in deep with the political machinations of a district attorney's office, the intricate steps of a police investigation, and of course the legal eagle operations of a court room. In to the mix is an horrendous crime, of which a lawyer himself is charged with committing, he may or may not be guilty of the crime, but wonderfully we are never sure until the astonishing finale plays out. The air of mystery hangs heavy throughout, nagging away like an itch you can't scratch, with Pakula neatly unfolding the drama in a collage of flashbacks, side-plots and present time intricacies. Mood is heightened by the photography of Gordon Willis, who along with Pakula's looming camera work, manages to convey a claustrophobic feel in keeping with an unstable marriage and a court room itself.

A great cast is assembled for the picture. Ford expertly plays it low key, brooding intently, he makes us unsure as to his guilt or innocence, and that's a testament to how good his performance is. Bedelia is excellent as the stoic wife, holding it together as the marital cracks begin to appear, and Juliá dominates the second half of the picture as we shift to the court room. Dennehy does a nice line in morally compromised smarm, and Scacchi wonderfully exudes a femme fatale sexuality. Winfield is a mighty presence as the judge presiding over such a tricky case, and Spencer is as reliable as ever. Only disappointments come with the performances of Joe Grifasi and Tom Mardirosian, who as the prosecutors come across as wimpy and hardly brick tight lawyers trying a high profile murder case.

An intense and intellectual adult drama, Presumed Innocent is one of the best of its type from the modern era. 8.5/10
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Brilliant Narrative Play versus Shadows of a Heart (A+)
treeherder4 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
Bear with me while I set the context for my review:

One of the stunning "hooks" in the academy award winning film "The Sting" (1973, 10 nominations, 7 awards, including Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay) is the shift of the narrative voice from omniscient perspective to a closed third person perspective ... when Johnny Hooker (Redford) and Lt. Snyder (Durning) are fooled by the "FBI agents" -- we later find out the FBI scene was set up and scripted by Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) as the critical step in making the Sting work. That one elegantly smooth, unnoticeable shift is the crowning touch in an otherwise excellent film.

In "Presumed Innocent" the brilliant change in narrative is the change in voice .. from that of Rusty Sabich (Ford) to that of his wife Barbara (Bedelia) during the final conversation between them in the story. The intricately subtle and carefully staged plot lets us follow Rusty's stream of consciousness as if he was in a trance .. a trance guiding him toward a full understanding of "what really happened" in the murder of his colleague -- and a full understanding of his part in those events.

It's a movie that you have to see twice to appreciate the excellent acting and direction. And if and when you read Scott Turow's book, you'll want to see the film at least once again .. in which case you'll be more than impressed at how well the (extraordinary) novel was translated to the screen.

The spare, unobtrusive score magnifies the most compellingly dense scenes in which Rusty's awareness of "what really happened" evolves. If you want to know what John Williams can do with a light touch when he's not making epics like Jaws, Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Harry Potter, you might want to play the film once more, just to focus on tasting and savoring the audio portion of this program.

Raul Julia nailed the part of defense attorney Sandy Stern, Harrison Ford is phenomenal as Rusty, and Bonnie Bedelia; Brian Dennehy as District Attorney Raymond Horgan, Rusty's boss; Paul Winfield, the trial judge; and John Spenser as Rusty's friend Detective Lipranzer (West Wing, Leo McGarry) -- all turn in pro performances in support. Some significant credit has to go to the producers for assembling a magical cast.

But be forewarned -- this is dark magic. In almost every scene, shadow and darkness is prominent, and the scant few bright daylight scenes only set up contrast with the dimmer, more murky, more obscure moments. The desolate visualization is not bleak, though; to the contrary, it's richly textured. Making hopelessness and forlorn human obsession palatable in a film is no small thing ... and this story is the journey of the soul in the small hours of a sleepless night. It's a story that could have inspired Hemingway to write "A Clean, Well Lighted Place."

"Imagine a dark smoky bar, deep grained cherry wood paneling, where they dole out martinis made from the best 100 proof vodka and iced human tears to richly burdened men and women, each alone with grief and mourning and self-created pain."

*** Presumed Innocent was nominated for an Edgar (Best Movie, Edgar Allan Poe Award) along with Goodfellas, but lost to The Grifters (Angelica Huston, John Cusack, Annette Bening.) The original music by John Willimas received a BMI Film Music award.

*** Trivia Bradley Witford, also a featured player on West Wing (Josh Lyman) plays Jamie Kemp, Sandy Stern's law assistant.

This is the first film I know of with a character who is a black gang member and "in the life, on the lowdown" as a closeted homosexual.

Exercise: When the defense team visits Caroline Polhemus's apartment, note the number of bar glasses present on the countertop.
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Not all punishments come from a court room
bruceh-227 December 1998
Harrison Ford plays a district attourney who is still obsessed with a co-worker with whom he had an affair, which she broke off. She then is found murdered, and all the evidence points back at Ford. We don't want to think he committed this brutal murder, but do we know for sure?

There is a strong moral to this film, which should be obvious to anyone watching. Sometimes our actions have consequences that we never would have believed or intended, but does that make us any less guilty?

If you liked this film, you might want to watch Tightrope.
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Excellent legal drama
perfectbond27 November 2003
Presumed Innocent presents a stiff challenge to its principal actors. Many of them must read their lines and convey body language that is ambiguous, suggesting both guilt or innocence and good or evil. The talented cast accomplishes this superbly. The story (based on a book of the same name which I haven't read) intelligently and knowledgeably examines the morality of the legal system and how it is compromised because of human fallibility. All in all, this was a very engrossing motion picture. Strongly recommended, 8/10.
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character development LOST in the movie
seoulbaby1 December 2006
Warning: Spoilers
I was very disappointed in the movie. One of the most gripping things about the book was Rusty's character development and the description of the internal conflict between his feelings about his marriage and his feelings about his mistress. The book portrays a brilliant psychological irony in that Rusty is not technically guilty of his mistress's murder, but his character throughout the book feels guilty and ambivalent. Rusty is emotionally vulnerable in many respects, and while he does not love Carolyn, the feelings he has for her go beyond simple lust. Factor in the pure love he has for his son... Rusty is a complex and conflicted man. This did not transfer to the screen at all. I like Harrison Ford, but he was totally miscast, and was not able to portray the subtle nuances or vulnerability of Rusty's character. This dumbed down the movie to a one-dimensional "who-dunnit" with a "surprise" ending. The emotional power that made the book so compelling was gone.
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Well acted drama; a tad too long Warning: Spoilers
I love the Indiana Jones films. But, in terms of Harrison Ford, they sometimes overshadow what I will refer to as his more serious films. So when I see a film like "42", or this one, I appreciate Harrison Ford's acting ability even more.

One of the ways that I know this is a good film is that -- aside from Ford -- most of the actors are people I don't really care for. Brian Dennehy is usually a turn-off for me, but I have to admit that here he was very good as the head prosecuting attorney. I generally don't like or dislike Raúl Juliá, but here as the attorney defending Ford, he was excellent. Bonnie Bedelia, as Ford's wife, is an actress I give little thought to, and here she does her job. Paul Winfield is competent and interesting as the judge. Greta Scacchi, as the murder victim and Ford's colleague is good, and generally she turns in pretty solid performances, though she seems to generally be under Hollywood's radar.

The script here is very good, particularly with the courtroom scenes that dominate the second half of the film. I do think that the film drags a little in places, particularly in the first half. Considering the film's 127 minute run time, there could have been some editing to tighten the action. There are a couple of nice twists, and all the loose ends are tied together before closure.

Nevertheless, overall this is a class act (so to speak), and well worth your time. Highly recommended.
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Guilty is as guilty does
tieman6411 November 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Alan J. Pakula, known primarily for his conspiracy movies ("Klute", "The Parallax View", "Rollover", "The Pelican Brief", "All the President's Men"), directs "Presumed Innocent", a very good if somewhat conventional courtroom drama.

The film stars Harrison Ford as a talented prosecutor who becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a colleague with whom he had an adulterous affair. The film's first act is very slow, its second act is a fun exercise in paranoia, courtroom pyrotechnics and dispensed red herrings, and the film's climax is excellent, until, of course, Pakula's real killer is revealed. Films like this rely heavily on misdirection. The audience likes to be kept guessing. It's difficult to then reveal the killer and not have your audience feel somewhat cheated.

Like many of Pakula's films, "Presumed Innocent" maintains an ominous tone throughout, and there is always the feeling of off screen characters plotting, conspiring and moving our heroes about like pawns. The film was part of a wave ("Fatal Attraction", "Final Analysis", "Basic Instinct", "Jade", "Disclosure", "Single White Female", "The Hand That Rocks The Cradle", "The Last Seduction", "Body Heat", "After Dark My Sweet" etc) of psycho-sexual thrillers which exhibited a new breed of femme fatale. Hilariously, while these films unconsciously exhibited a fear of female independence, women and a threat to traditional female gender roles, male action heroes around this time (1980s, early 90s) were responding by getting ridiculously muscular, physical, phallic and barbaric, desperately hoping to cling to fading notions of traditional masculinity. Today, everyone's metrosexual. You can't even conceive of a "Fatal Attraction" being released and making money today. An angry, murderous wife? Oh my goodness, why didn't the husband recognise the warning signs, take the kids and leave?

7.5/10 – Like most directors who did their best work in the 70s, Pakula's latter output struggles to juggle art, commerce, personal taste and popcorn expectations. Worth one viewing.
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Fine acting and story, makes you think. However rating is well earned
HobbitHole6 August 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If you are like me and are not fond of good thrillers without foul language or graphic sexual depictions or excessive violence, you won't have to edit too much (maybe some of Dennehy's spicy speeches).

A few other things could have had tighter editing for morality, but compared with more recent trash, thankfully they tastefully cut away. Good story telling can leave it to the person's imagination and let you know what type of character the person is without showing all the lurid details.

There were a couple of technical glitches, for example the finding of the mysterious 'Leon' seemed a bit amazing considering the deputy prosecutor is being framed for murder and no one is tailing him? Hmmm But it is really a masterpiece of film making in most cases, up there with Anatomy of a Murder (1959 - James Stewart, etc.) in all time thrillers in the order of an Alfred Hitchcock type movie.

Twists and turns that make it look like it aims at one person then another, dirty cops, a boss that says he'll lie under oath, a judge who seems to care more about a missing glass and a missing 'B' (for bribery) file than the other evidence that seems to lead to the conclusion that it was who they were 'framing'.

The ending makes you stop and think and gives you opportunity to discuss the justice system, the fact that though mostly we think it's the judges that let off criminals, there can be corruption even in prosecution, defense, police and in human beings in general.

If you want lighthearted comedy or family fare, this isn't it. But if you want a hang-on-the-edge-of-your-seat thriller with a first rate cast, you might like this one.
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Bland, Boring Pakula
gavin694214 April 2011
The lead investigator (Harrison Ford) on a murder case becomes the prime suspect after it is revealed that he was having an affair with her. With fingerprints and DNA everywhere, can he convince them of his innocence? Besides Harrison Ford, we have Raul Julia playing a role other than Gomez Addams, which is nice to see. There is also the medical examiner, who is hilarious, by far my favorite character in the movie.

Not director Alan Pakula's best work by far, though he does well by covering the ground he covered in "All the President's Men" by mixing crime and politics. This is always an intriguing mix, especially when executed by a capable director, writer and cast. This film has such things, and is therefore a worthy film, and enjoyable.

I found the flashbacks to be annoying more than anything. I understand they were important to make the connection between the victim and the accused, but she was presented as if she was a gorgeous catch, but was rather hideous and manipulative. Her alleged liaisons with important men does not make her a victim that gets much sympathy from me.
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unrealistic and too predictable
villard1 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Besides being dragged out and a little convoluted, this movie has inconsistencies that give away the ending early into the film.

Mrs. Savage is simply too *nice* given all the trouble that's hit that fan. When you first see husband and wife together you assume she's clueless about the affair, just from their chemistry.

It's bad enough her husband had an affair with a sexy young blonde , now he's in all kinds of legal dodo. No wife would respond as compassionately as her, without some occasional flare- up of anger and sarcasm from buried hostility.

The ending is a mess with a way too drawn out confession. It made me regret sitting thought the film, as much as I like Harrison Ford playing a bad boy now and then. Maybe this role helped land him a much better character in "What Lies Beneath."

The film should have simply ended with him finding the blood hammer and then let the audience's imagination fill in the rest. (which by the way is the LAST thing a killer would leave laying around without washing it off - duh)

It's also unusually sad to leave the cute little son an orphan because of his dad's bad behavior. The movie's a bummer.
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Ending Killed it for Me
Pelagia14 May 2003
Warning: Spoilers
I think the ending pretty much ruined the film for me. Without revealing any spoilers, I feel that having to listen to what seemed like ten minutes of contrived dialogue by the murderer explaining the murder step by step was unbelievable. It was long and painful to sit through, and a horrible way to end a film.

The film toys with the audience, presenting differing characters who are set up in a way that will make them seem like the murderer. The problem I had with this is that the film skims over the characters without any real development. For example, Brian Dennehy's character was very prominent in the beginning of the film but disappeared in the second half.

I also didn't like the two prosecutors, Molto and LaGuardia (sorry if I mispelled), they are just too visibly slimy for lawyers. They constantly shift and squirm, lacking the composure that a true lawyer would uphold in the courtroom.

Raul Julia and the Japanese medical examiner were the only performances that stood out. The medical examiner was a treat to watch, while Julia impressed me with his slickness and subdued style.

I love Harrison Ford, but he has three facial expressions throughout the whole film and speaks in his deep monotone style which reveals little emotion.
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Thin retelling of rich novel
Philby-38 October 2005
After an enjoyable read of Scott Turow's novel, I settled down to watch Alan Pakula's film. I was somewhat disappointed, and not just because of the worn videotape. It is a thin retelling of the story without the rich inner reflections of the book where accused prosecuting attorney Rusty Sabich narrates in the first person his trial on a charge of killing a fellow prosecutor and femme fatale Carolyn Polhemus.

Adapation is always a bitch, as Charlie Kaufman wonderfully demonstrated in his film "Adapation" but it works when the film makers realise that they are making a film and not précising the novel. Alan Pakula himself did a very impressive job when he adapted 'the Woodward-Bernstein expose of Watergate, "All The President's Men" and produced a fine film. Here, despite excellent casting and first rate acting, what you see up on the screen, with all the moody, gloomy interiors, is a hard-to follow turgid courtroom drama.

The book is an excellent account, written from first-hand experience, of what it's like to be a US-style prosecuting attorney in a large mid-western city as well as being a reasonably intriguing thriller. However, I have trouble with the character of the "victim", played with all stops out by Greta Scacchi. It's true there are women who play on the inability of men with power to behave themselves and they are a convenient plot device, but we finish up not with a character but a stereotype. In the novel Turow does try, with not much success, to divine the reasons why Carolyn is what she was, but the film-makers simply abandon any attempt to explain her otherwise than to hint via her ex-husband (who does not appear in the novel) that she might be some kind of fraud. Anyway, I always feel that the amount of sex that goes on incidental to legal practice is greatly exaggerated, and someone like Carolyn comes along about once a century. In fact the film and the book share one problem in common – the men are real enough but the women are caricatures.

Turow is a far better writer than John Grisham, but somehow Grisham's books transfer better to the screen. In fact it seems the worse the book the better the adaptation. However there are some moments when the actors transcend their material, particularly Raul Julia's zen-like performance as defense counsel Sandy Stern. And it has to be said that Greta Scacchi does provide a reason for a prosecuting attorney on the cusp of middle age to throw caution to the winds and engage in an affair. Harrison Ford puts in his usual reliable performance but is somehow not in the centre of things; it might just be the gloomy cinematography but I remember very few close-ups of him.
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Whoever called this ending "implausible" was dead on
daneldorado26 April 2005
"Presumed Innocent" (1990) is a tautly-scripted, seemingly authentic look at a criminal trial in the late 20th century. It's filled with intrigue, beginning with the fact that the murder victim is a beautiful woman and the man charged with finding and identifying her murderer was the woman's adulterous lover. For the first 98 per cent of the movie, we get our money's worth.

The problem is the last 2 per cent. I've seen thriller movies that leave you saying "I don't think that turned out so well." Or murder-trial movies that make you say: "Oh, THAT could never happen in real life!" Well, "Presumed Innocent," with all its virtues -- tight direction, excellent performances throughout -- has that one fatal flaw: The ending makes no sense -- NONE. To say it could never happen in real life is putting it mildly. This ending could never happen in a thousand lifetimes.

I'll try to avoid spoilers, but just know that -- if you see "Presumed Innocent" -- be prepared to suspend disbelief. Not saying it's a bad movie, not saying it's a waste of time; but that ending? No way.

Dan N. (
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Overplotted and stagy, but fairly compelling.
gridoon18 May 2001
When I had watched this film a few years ago for the first time, my overall impression was highly negative; I found it to be a boring, stagy courtroom thriller unworthy of its great cast. Now that I watched it again, more attentively, I STILL find Pakula's direction overly stagy, but some virtues do begin to show up. Undoubtedly, the casting is the main one: the movie is filled with terrific supporting performances, from Raul Julia as an incredibly clever counselor to Bonnie Bedelia as the frustrated wife. Harrison Ford himself is very good (although with a bad haircut) in one of his unconventional roles. But the movie has too many plot threads, some of which could have easily been omitted to make the whole story shorter and more tense. (**1/2)
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Presumed interesting (tv)
leplatypus21 December 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Sentence : dull

Well, this is a strange movie : the movie starts without exposing the characters and after 30 minutes, i had the feeling that i skipped chapters by errors. They talk about characters and facts that you don't see so it's hard to make an idea to what happens. Then, the pacing was horrible as there is a lot of empty scenes (Harrison's family for example or flashbacks) for which i indeed skipped the chapters to give a punch. The ending was not ending anything and Harrison's final voice over is totally cryptic !

So, for a trial and thriller movie when you need clear, cut things, here it's all about confusion and bad editing ! Harrison acts good but his characters is unbelievable as he seems to be ignorant of his own behavior ! For those who looks for a more convincing trial of injustice, i will recommend Gavras' « Music box »…
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These Lawyers Keep Writing Novels
rmax3048234 February 2006
It used to be doctors that boasted about the literary artists that rose from their ranks -- William Carlos Williams, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Michael Crighton, Frank Slaughter. (Frank Slaughter?) Now it's coming to be lawyers. Back in 1959, "Anatomy of a Murder" was a lonely best seller. Lately there has been a cascade of more or less autobiographical books about lawyers from the likes of Turow and Gresham. And the movies inevitably follow the bucks, I mean the books.

I wish Turow had used a little more imagination in cooking up the names for his characters, especially since they seem designed to represent a little microcosm of ethnic identities. I guess Sabich is properly Polish, and Horgan irretrievably Irish, and lawyer Stern can be a Jewish lawyer who looks and speaks like a Puerto Rican. Polhemus may be a little unusual but not everyone can claim a hyphenized national allegiance.

The attempt is weak with the Italian characters, though. Molto? Too much for me to believe. And Della Guardia is plumb wrong. La Guardia is an occupational name, meaning "guard," pretty much like "Steward" in English. But "de la" indicates a place name, like "von" in German or "van" in Dutch. "Della" and "Guardia" are a mismatched couple. "From the guard"? It would be like an Italian novelist making up a character name like "Cookson" or "Bakerson." The animal doesn't exist.

Oh -- the movie? It's okay. It rolls along in its sexy, suspenseful, stereotypical way, an efficient example of how to reconstruct in an unidentifiable manner a story already familiar from "The Big Clock" and "No Way Out" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends" and a couple of others.

Harrison Ford mopes efficiently through his part. I like Brian Dennehy a lot better as a nice guy than a heavy. Raul Julia is reassuring, almost comforting, in the role of Ford's defense counsel. If I were to be tried for murder I would want him and his underplayed confidence and his big dark gentle eyes to represent me rather than the skulky guilty-looking Ford. Bonny Bedelia is okay. Greta Scacchi is a knockout, so to speak, so it's a double tragedy when she gets her head bashed in. John Spencer is always reliable -- or was. He died a month ago. Too bad, a reliable New Jerseyish everyman.

It's worth catching but not worth commenting further on.
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Great, despite the bad reviews
millennia-226 June 1999
I am surprised at the vast amount of people saying they didn't like Presumed Innocent. So what if it wasn't the best movie ever, it was still good. Alan Pakula (Who recently died) handled it well and John Williams' music was very fitting. The supporting cast was great, especially Brian Dennehy, Bonnie Bedelia, and Joseph Mazzello (in an excellent debut). It didn't really have the 'big-budget' feel that all of Ford's previous (and recent) movies had, and that's one of the things that make it stand out.

+ (GOOD THINGS) 1.) Ford's performance 2.) Alan Pakula's direction 3.) The supporting actors 4.) The twist ending 5.) John Williams' score 6.) The pacing

  • (BAD THINGS) 1.) The box design 2.) The tagline 3.) The multitude of characters

Total: 7.5/10
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Thumbs down
JerryWeaver5 March 2002
I don't care for Harrison Ford, and I didn't care for this movie. The best thing about it is that the viewer is kept in the dark as to Ford's guilt or innocence of the murder of his former lover. Another plus is Raul Julia's fine performance as Ford's defense attorney.

But these two elements cannot save this film. It lacks cohesiveness and lacks anything for us to really care about.

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Good, but not Pakula's best by far
krishshautriya17 March 2019
Harrison Ford plays a prosecutor who becomes the chief suspect in the death of his colleague. He as always, was great in the film. He is very good at bringing vulnerability to characters, which makes them connect with the audience.

The film was directed by Alan J Pakula, and he has made better films before. This was not a bad film at all. The only problem was the pacing. Sometimes, the movie slowed to a halt. For me, the flashback scenes were a big problem. They were necessary, and I get it, but they were not well placed.

But for me at least, the twist in the end was surprisingly good. I was I'll when I saw the movie, so I was not thinking. But the twist really surprised me. The movie was very good at misdirection.

The music was composed by the great John Williams, and it shows. It was great.

Overall, a good movie. Slightly slow, but definitely a one time watch.

3.5 out of 5 for me.
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Similar Themes To "The Fugitive"
zkonedog2 March 2017
Released three years apart from each other, "Presumed Innocent" (1990) and "The Fugitive" (1993) share similar themes. Though "The Fugitive" plays for more action/adventure while "Presumed Innocent" is much more a courtroom drama, each movie has the "man accused of a crime" (but the audience doesn't know if he actually did it) theme running through it.

For a basic plot summary, "Presumed Innocent" opens with Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) as a high-profile deputy prosecutor working for Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). When a co-worker of Rusty's, Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) is murdered, Rusty suddenly finds himself on the top of the suspect list.

I have watched this movie twice and found that it didn't hold up as well with time as I thought it might have. Yet, on your first, fresh viewing of this movie, you'll probably find it quite engrossing. It has solid acting, an intriguing plot, and an ending that you won't see coming. After that initial viewing, though, much of the suspense and surprise is lost and it doesn't hold up quite as well.

I actually like this one a tad better than "The Fugitive", though. This one planted a real seed of doubt in my head regarding who was guilty/innocent, where "Fugitive" never went that far for me. I also could appreciate the "lawyer now being tried for a crime" angle to "Presumed Innocent", as it gave Ford's character some interesting angles.

Overall, "Presumed Innocent" is a pretty solid movie. If you've never seen it and are a fan of court dramas or Harrison Ford, I would recommend it. Just don't expect it to be part of your "permanent collection of classics". It doesn't hold up quite that well.
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