Honed to a riveting intensity by director Alan Pakula and featuring the tightest script imaginable, Presumed Innocent is a demanding, disturbing javelin of a courtroom murder mystery.
Hewing closely to Scott Turow’s bestselling 1987 novel, the harrowing tale unfolds with nary a wasted step, as deputy prosecutor and family man Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) arrives at work to learn his beautiful colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) has been brutally murdered. Forced to lead the investigation by his longtime boss Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy), who’s in a deep sweat over his re-election campaign, Sabich can scarcely admit he’d had an affair with the dead attorney. But his pained, steely cool wife (Bonnie Bedelia) knows, and she’s none too sympathetic or forgiving about it.
Sabich is then confronted by rat-like ex-colleague Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi), who’s part of an opposing campaign for the chief prosecutor’s office. Molto swears Sabich was at Carolyn’s apartment the night of the murder. Before long Sabich is embroiled in a grand jury investigation that spurs his politically frightened boss to turn on him. With a sly, magnetic Raul Julia brought in as Sabich’s crafty defense lawyer, one never knows, until pic’s astonishing denouement, whether Sabich did the deed or not.
Ford, in a very mature, subtle, lowkey performance, pulls off the difficult feat of making it impossible to be sure. Bedelia is wondrously controlled, and Scacchi, sans any hint of a European accent, is convincing and seductive.