‘Presumed Innocence’ review: Jake Gyllenhaal’s thriller is exceptional

In the Apple TV+ series Presumed Innocent, Jake Gyllenhaal plays Chicago Deputy District Attorney Rusty Sabich. Based on Scott Turow’s 1987 novel of the same name, the series finds Rusty on trial for the horrific murder of his colleague and lover, Caroline Polhemus (Renate Rainsvi). David E. Kelley’s eight-part miniseries offers a completely new and updated perspective, setting it apart from the 1990 film adaptation, which starred Harrison Ford. Many of the key elements remain the same, but this version isn’t riddled with the tiresome sexism that weighed down the film. Instead, female characters, including Caroline; Rusty’s wife, Barbara (the dazzling Ruth Negga); And his lead investigator, Det. Alana Rodriguez (Nana Mensah) is portrayed as a three-dimensional, thoughtful woman, all reeling from Rusty’s messy choices. While Ford’s treatment of Rusty is stoic, Gyllenhaal plays a desperate man unable to reconcile his harmful decisions with the image he projects to others. Watchable in its entirety, “Presumed Innocent” is one of the best legal thrillers to hit television in years.

The story begins on a picturesque day in the Windy City. Rusty and his teenage children, Kyle (Kingston Romy Southwick) and Jaden (Chase Infinity), are hanging out in the backyard. The sunny afternoon takes a turn when Rusty receives a call that Caroline has been found bludgeoned to death. Disturbed, he breaks the news to Barbara and then races to his dead lover’s apartment.

Then Rusty’s life unfolds in ways that he, his family, or the audience could not have expected. Because Caroline and Rusty’s relationship was a secret, District Attorney Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp) initially assigned the case to Rusty. But the Illinois primary quickly turns Rusty’s investigation on its head. With Raymond dismissed from his role, Rusty is left under the leadership of new District Attorney Nico Della Guardia (OT Fagbenle) and the hated Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard), who takes over as Deputy District Attorney, taking over the case from Rusty.

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Sensing that his arrest is imminent, Rusty begins taking strange steps to stay off Tommy and Nico’s radars. However, it would not be long before he was tried for murder. Meanwhile, amid the media frenzy over Rusty’s hidden life, Barbara, Jaden, and Kyle are caught in the crossfire. Too often, wives and children are shown on screen as footnotes in the lives of male characters, but here, Rusty’s family is intricately woven into the story as those most affected by his arrogance and selfishness.

“Presumed Innocence” is so effective because it allows the viewer to get to know each character intimately. From Barbara’s therapy sessions with her psychiatrist, Dr. Liz Rush (Lily Rabe), to the Sabic teens’ reactions to and understanding of their father’s lies, the show’s ability to breathe lends it a haunting realism. Additionally, Kelly, an expert at writing legal dramas, deconstructs the baroque politics of the district attorney’s office and how they impact the investigation into Carolyn’s murder and Rusty’s trial.

The “presumed innocence” quotient rises because the audience isn’t quite sure what to do with Rusty. He’s overly friendly one moment and borderline narcissistic the next, always leaving his honesty and innocence up for debate. Furthermore, several great twists keep the viewer from feeling too comfortable. From the beginning, Gyllenhaal portrays Rusty as an enigma—whether he feels guilt, shame, or both.

The first two episodes of “Presumed Innocent” will premiere June 12 on Apple TV+, with new episodes premiering weekly on Wednesdays.

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