As moody mysteries go, the courtroom drama Presumed Innocent is among the moodiest. The darkness largely owes to the photography by Gordon Willis (The Godfather) and the brooding lead performance by Harrison Ford, but credit director Alan J. Pakula for a Sidney Lumet-esque take on what goes on behind closed doors and in front of them in the halls of power.
Adapted from the Scott Turow novel by Frank Pierson and Pakula, Presumed Innocent concerns anti-heroic lawyer Rozat "Rusty" Sabich (Ford), Kindle County prosecutor and presumptive heir to the Prosecuting Attorney's office currently occupied by lame duck Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). When Rusty's conspicuously attractive colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) turns up murdered, the evidence points to Rusty, despite his being married with children. Rusty maintains his innocence when it comes to the murder but concedes his affair with Carolyn. His wife Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia) stands by him, but should she? Even now, Rusty can't get Carolyn off his mind, a telltale symptom of a longstanding sexual obsession. There's a very real question as to Rusty's innocence, though that's irrelevant to crack defense attorney Sandy Stern (Raúl Juliá), for whom erstwhile legal rival Sabich has a healthy respect.
Presumed Innocent is the sort of drama that's bursting at the seams with top talent, including John Spencer, Paul Winfield, Jesse Bradford, Sab Shimono, and Bradley Whitford. Ford anchors the film with his stoical masculinity familiarly cracking to reveal wellsprings of emotion. As is so often the case, Juliá is a particular treat as the ultra-competent lawyer with a twinkle in his eye, and Dennehy is perfection as the tough, morally compromised boss who's in no position to be lecturing Rusty about his indiscretions.
Pakula has been accused of misogyny (including by Presumed Innocent star Scacchi), and this film does showcase two uncomfortably anti-feminist female archetypes: a woman blatantly using her sex to advance her career and a fiercely protective mother who lives only for family without thought to her own needs (both, by the way, are presumed guilty of mental imbalance). It's a fair argument that the film should be thrown out "with the bathwater," so to speak, because of these ugly archetypes. The male characters have their own flaws, to be sure, but they're largely painted as victims of some kind of misplaced feminism, which leaves the wrong kind of bad taste in the mouth when the melodrama comes to a close. Ultimately, Presumed Innocent works best as a character study/mystery that keeps us guessing as to what Rusty knows and what he's really thinking.
In inaugurating its line of Double-Feature Blu-rays, Warner has chosen Presumed Innocent and Frantic as a couple of the flagship titles. Presented on a single disc sans any extras, the double feature is a good value for two strong titles making their hi-def debut. Presumed Innocent is a revelation on Blu-ray, restoring the picture to its 1990 theatrical appearance: aside from a hint of edge enhancement, this is a near-flawless presentation of the twenty-year-old film: color and contrast are firm and accurate, detail and texture are strong and, most crucially, the film's many shadows read deeply. In terms of audio, the disc keeps it simple: a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack that faithfully renders the film's original audio soundscape with admirable clarity.
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