Friday 1 October 2010

Movie Review: Presumed Innocent (1990)

A courtroom drama that creaks under the weight of a ridiculous story, Presumed Innocent is a surprise disappointment despite a star-heavy cast.

Prosecuting Attorney Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy) assigns his top prosecutor Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) to investigate the brutal murder of fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi). But Sabich himself is soon a prime suspect: he had an affair with Polhemus, she broke it off, and he is still obsessed with her. Meanwhile, it emerges that Horgan was also having an affair with Polhemus; he had secretly assigned her a bribery file to investigate; and the bribery case just so happens to involve the judge who just so happens to be assigned to Sabich's murder trial.

Raul Julia, with a smile perpetually plastered onto his face, shows up as lawyer Sandy Stern, defending Sabich and using smarm as his main weapon. He quickly destroys the case against Sabich by doing no more the exposing the doctor who performed the autopsy as an incompetent fool.

There are investigators hiding evidence, prosecutors with political agendas, and a murderer who is perfectly careful in every detail -- but places the murder weapon, soaked with blood and with the victim's hair still attached to it, back in the tool box.

This may or may not be a case of a poor film utterly failing to capture the essence of the book, but the script certainly casts doubt on the quality of the Scott Turow novel.

Still, any movie with Ford, Dennehy, Julia, Bonnie Bedelia as Sabich's wife, and Scacchi, is worth watching, and the strength of the cast keeps the movie from sinking into a complete farce as the ultra-convoluted reality-free plot ties itself into a pretzel. It is evident, however, that Scacchi 's beauty is as captivating as her acting ability is atrocious. Appropriately, her role in flashbacks is mostly reduced to gazing into the camera...deeply.

Alan J. Pakula has much better films than this on his resume. He directs here with the main intention of keeping everyone and everything deadly serious. Only Julia is allowed to smile, but Presumed Innocent is a good recipe for general hilarity.

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