‘Presumed Innocent’ Review: Jake Gyllenhaal Thriller Is Exceptional

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In Apple TV+’s “Presumed Innocent,” Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Chicago’s chief deputy prosecutor, Rusty Sabich. Based on Scott Turow’s 1987 novel of the same name, the show finds Rusty on trial for the gruesome murder of his colleague and lover, Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve). David E. Kelley’s eight-part miniseries offers an entirely new and updated perspective, differentiating it from the 1990 film adaptation, which starred Harrison Ford. Many core elements remain the same, but this version isn’t riddled with the exhausting sexism that weighed down the film. Instead, the female characters, including Carolyn; Rusty’s wife, Barbara (an entrancing Ruth Negga); and his lead investigator, Det. Alana Rodriguez (Nana Mensah), are depicted as three-dimensional and thoughtful women, all reeling from Rusty’s chaotic choices. While Ford’s take on Rusty was stoic, Gyllenhaal plays a desperate man unable to reconcile his damaging decisions with the image he’s presented to others. Entirely watchable, “Presumed Innocent” is one of the best legal thrillers to arrive on television in years.

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

Rusty’s life then unravels in ways neither he, his family, nor the audience could have anticipated. Since Carolyn and Rusty’s affair was a secret, District Attorney Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp) initially assigns Rusty the case. But the Illinois primary quickly upends Rusty’s investigation. With Raymond booted out of his role, Rusty is left under the helm of new DA Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle) and the loathsome Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard), who steps in as chief deputy prosecutor, taking over the case from Rusty.

Sensing his arrest is imminent, Rusty starts making bizarre moves to stay off Tommy and Nico’s radars. Still, it’s not long before he’s on trial for homicide. Meanwhile, amid the media frenzy around the hidden life Rusty’s been leading, Barbara, Jaden and Kyle are caught in the crossfire. So often on-screen, wives and children are showcased as footnotes in male characters’ lives, but here, Rusty’s family is intricately woven into the story as the ones most affected by his arrogance and selfishness.

“Presumed Innocent” is so effective because it allows the viewer to get to know each character intimately. From Barbara’s therapy sessions with her psychologist, Dr. Liz Rush (Lily Rabe), to the Sabich teens’ reactions to and understanding of their father’s lies, the series’ breathability gives it a haunting realism. Additionally, Kelley, a master at writing legal dramas, unpacks the baroque politics of a prosecuting attorney’s office and how they factor into the investigation of Carolyn’s killing and Rusty’s trial.

“Presumed Innocent” soars because the audience is never quite sure what to make of Rusty. He is highly affable one moment and borderline narcissistic the next, leaving both his sincerity and his innocence perpetually up for debate. Moreover, several brilliant twists keep the viewer from getting too comfortable. From the start, Gyllenhaal portrays Rusty as an enigma —whether he is experiencing guilt, shame or both is to be determined.

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

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