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