When the lead prosecutor for all sexual abuse cases, Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) is found brutally raped and murdered, the district attorney, Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) orders one of his top prosecutors, Rozat 'Rusty' Sabich (Harrison Ford) to investigate the high profile case. With elections coming up in a matter of weeks, the DA wants... needs someone to prosecute for the heinous crime. Once the DA starts pressuring Rusty to move on the case, Rusty does so but in an unorthodox way as to extricate himself from the case because he briefly had a fling with Carolyn once upon a time and that could destroy the entire prosecution if it ever came to light.
Once Raymond, the DA Rusty was working for loses the election, Nico (Tom Mardirosian) takes over his position as DA. Nico's first order of business is to go after Rusty for the murder of Carolyn with his own prosecutor, Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi). However it soon becomes clear that Carolyn was no saint. Carloyn would lie, cheat and sleep with anyone who could potentially further her career and as soon she got what she needed from them, she dropped 'em with no remorse and would move on to her next target that she calculated was her best chance for advancement. A purely career driven sociopath. I do wonder though if she genuinely wanted to help people and essentially sold her soul in order to get the power necessary to do so, or whether she was simply intoxicated by power. I personally think it was the latter. Sociopaths generally don't make good humanitarians.
After Carolyn used Rusty to advance her career, she did what she always did, dropped him and moved on to the next guy. Rusty was devastated by how easily she could walk away from their 'relationship' and refused to give up on her so easily. Rusty would 'drop in' on her at work, call her at home, spy on her, all damning acts that amount to motivation if the prosecution found out about it. Rusty's wife, Barbara Sabich (Bonnie Bedelia) seemed to know about his transgressions with Carolyn but stayed with him nonetheless. Although Barbara did not know that Rusty was still lusting for Carolyn, she thought it was over. Rusty knows enough to know what's coming next and he lawyers up with his long-time rival, Alejandro 'Sandy' Stern (Raul Julia) as they prep for trial, and I have to say he was the highlight of the movie for me. Don't get me wrong, Harrison Ford gave a stellar performance as well, but Raul Julia was a delight.
The screenplay was based on a book written by lawyer, Scott Turow, which adds a lot of verisimilitude to the unfolding events, an added bonus that John Grisham adaptions also have, authenticity. Just so long as they stick to the source material, which they did. The entire ordeal didn't feel overly sensationalized or over-dramatized, it was restrained yet was still highly suspenseful and intriguing storytelling. Technically the movie was very deliberate, the framing, the locations, everything was amazingly realistic and detailed. The set designs alone were superlative, you could practically smell the potent combination of leather, whiskey, cigars and... power emanating off the screen.
I was never sure if Rusty really did do it, each small piece of information was revealed in due time and felt very procedural in the courtroom, again I'd largely attribute that Scott Turow's book and the tight screenplay from Frank Pierson, the direction from Alan Pakula and the expert cinematography from Gordon Willis, who was the DOP of The Godfather trilogy. There was no shortage of talent behind or in front of the cameras and it never felt like there was either. The 'by the numbers' approach did make Presumed Innocent feel slightly, and I do emphasize slightly, pedestrian. I would have liked to have seen either Rusty or Barbara take the stand at some point, but again, this would have went against the realistic tone of the movie. I really don't want to give too much away but the movie is over 25 years old by now, isn't there a statute of limitations on spoilers? I was surprised that it really didn't turn out to be one big conspiracy to frame Rusty, it was an inconvenient number of small situations that accumulated to something, and in this case Rusty was the gravitational force for years worth of bad decisions, bad luck and poor choice in women that came his way. I didn't see the twist coming either. Despite the somewhat routine nature of Presumed Innocent, the judicial system is a routine one after all, it was still an excellent thriller that was suspenseful, captivating and absorbing on all fronts.
Written by - The Sentry - 12/03/2016