'Presumed Innocent' review: Remake struggles to meet the burden of proof


'We're taking you in for your safety. There are too many fans of Ford's original and the Swayze Road House outside the courtroom.' Photos: Handout

Here we go with another remake of something that was perfectly fine (in a tabloid-trashy, borderline sleazy, deliciously twisty way) to begin with.

While it's too late to ask "why", one might be tempted to stick around to see how the people behind Presumed Innocent 2024 can pull it off.

Though, on the strength of the first two episodes that dropped a couple of weeks back, I'll swap that "how" for an "if".

Back in 1990, three years before he was The Fugitive, Harrison Ford showed us he could segue from square-jawed action hero to helpless-while-the-walls-close-in (and not in a Death Star trash compactor context) sap in Alan J. Pakula's adaptation of the Scott Turow novel.

He was backed by a terrific supporting cast playing terrific supporting characters, from Raul Julia's slick defence attorney to Paul Winfield's wisecracking (if corrupt) judge to Greta Scacchi's seductive, ambitious prosecutor and John Spencer's reliable, loyal detective.

'I overheard the directors saying they plan to compensate for our lack of chemistry with an excess of flashback bed scenes.''I overheard the directors saying they plan to compensate for our lack of chemistry with an excess of flashback bed scenes.'

Thirty-four years later, in his first "television" (OK, streaming series) role and fresh from his Road House remake, Jake Gyllenhaal finds himself in the hot seat.

He plays prosecutor Rozat "Rusty" Sabich, the faithful right-hand man to District Attorney Ray Horgan (Bill Camp, The Queen's Gambit), who is facing an uphill battle at the polls against the ambitious Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenie, (The Handmaid's Tale, Black Widow) and his toady, er, staunch fellow prosecutor Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard).

When their fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) is murdered, Rusty takes on the case – withholding from his colleagues the fact that he was having an affair with her.

It's at this point, very early on in the first of Presumed Innocent's eight episodes, that remake showrunner David E. Kelley (the one and only) breaks away from the path set down by Turow and Pakula.

According to advance word, 2024's Presumed will spend much of its eight hours in the courtroom. Also, with all that time to fill, we get more scenes of Rusty's disrupted home life, with long-suffering wife Barbara (Ruth Negga, Preacher) aware of his infidelity – as are their children – and as suspicion for the murder falls on her hubby.

A couple of things happen in these initial episodes that will knock your familiarity with the original for a loop.

Major characters who made the movie (and book) so enjoyable despite the gravity of the situation are absent and it doesn't look like they will show up even further down the line. Certain things are revealed that make it all but impossible for the strong points for Rusty's innocence in the movie to be argued here.

And, yes, he even gets a different lawyer, and while I was not happy with that, it does kind of make sense given the prosecutors who are going after Rusty.

'My esteemed colleague and I attended the same school. I double-majored in Snarky and Vindictive, while he opted to focus on Advanced Cockiness.''My esteemed colleague and I attended the same school. I double-majored in Snarky and Vindictive, while he opted to focus on Advanced Cockiness.'

Gyllenhaal turns in a magnetic performance in these openers, his furtive and sometimes subdued glances betraying the fear and mounting paranoia behind his bravado as he fights first for the case and then for his innocence. Still, it seems like he's doing too much for too little payoff (heck, at least Road House opted to turn itself into a Road Runner cartoon halfway in) unless a huge deviation from the source material is lurking up the road.

All this setting up of the pieces and situations just wasn't strong enough to convince me that this remake needed making. The first two episodes crawl towards Rusty's inevitable arrest and arraignment at a lackadaisical pace that Kelley and Co. hoped would be spiced up by "erotic" flashback scenes – but nope, they aren't, since you weren't willing to go full Paul Verhoeven with them.

Frankly, Presumed Innocent has a long way to go to satisfy the burden of proof that its existence is justified.

Turow has at least nine other unfilmed novels, why not pick one of those? It's a strange case of a TV maverick appearing to play it safe by picking an established property, yet choosing to disregard a lot of what made it work in the first place.

New episodes of Presumed Innocent arrive on Apple TV+ every Wednesday.

5.5 10

Summary:

Someone needs a stern talking to.

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