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A Delightfully Enigmatic But Tight-Knit Thriller – Presumed Innocent (TV Review)

3 min read
Jake Gyllenhaal in Presumed Innocent

In recent years, Hollywood’s beloved A-List stars have increasingly dipped their toes into the world of TV and streaming. Jake Gyllenhaal (Road House) joins this pool of movie stars in his new Apple TV thriller Presumed Innocent. Such genre of film and TV often accumulates great interest, driving said appeal through complex and intricately layered storytelling that often reveals shocking revelations in their finales.

Showrunner David E. Kelley succeeds in contributing to the endless list of riveting crime dramas, providing audiences with a captivating mystery fuelled by lust, desire and passion. Much like the novel and film before it, Presumed Innocent follows Rusty Sabich (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he navigates the gruesome murder of his colleague Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve). However, Sabich’s love affair with the victim soon finds him accused of her murder and fighting to clear his name.

Predictably, Gyllenhaal delivers one of the strongest and more nuanced performances, delving into Rusty’s conflicting emotions by exploring his vulnerability against his cynical and suspicious rival Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard). This is achieved whilst simultaneously tackling the stress that follows his responsibilities as a father, a husband and a prosecutor. Matching such acting talent is his on-screen wife Ruth Negga, who truly sells her inner emotions, justifying any contempt audiences may have towards Rusty for his extramarital behaviour. Performances from these three are pivotal in producing such a terrific mini-series, with each line delivered from script to screen immaculately.

Perhaps one of the mini-series’ most notable achievements comes from the ability to feel like an unnervingly realistic depiction of psychotic criminal behaviour, yet feel so intimate and personal within the story being told. This undoubtedly comes down to the roles of Gyllenhaal’s family; Barbara Sabich (Negga), Jaden Sabich (Chase Infiniti) and Kyle Sabich (Kingston Rumi Southwick) being cast to perfection. Featuring as an influential theme throughout, the presence of family provides a refreshingly unique element to the series. With the script allocating precious screentime to allow their relationships to flourish and build upon the grounded identity the thriller undertakes. This also poses an interesting dynamic, with the family having to navigate the emotions of Rusty Sabich being accused of a monstrous crime, as well as the explore the impact of his infidelity.

Admittedly, the opening episode hurls viewers into the action in a fashion that produces a visual and narrative whiplash, and perhaps is the weakest of seven episodes watched for this review. Scenes are far too short and the story is thrown around the city of Chicago to quickly establish context for the crime, leaving audiences with little opportunity to develop affinity for the victim; Carolyn Polhemus. At times some opening performances can feel a little over-zealous, with foul language used consistently and delivered like a child’s frustrated outburst. However, these short-lived critiques establish a necessary groundwork and context to such character’s relationships, justifying the fast paced narrative. Additionally, each episode bests the previous in terms of quality and intrigue, with plentiful dramatic cliffhangers certain to leave audiences vying for more.

The direction and quality of the show never falters too far from the path, creating a delightfully enigmatic but tight-knit thriller . However, there are moments where audiences may wish Presumed Innocent had been a tad more ambitious, especially in the latter half where creative risks become increasingly sparse. At first, the plot appears to lean into the whodunnit element of the genre, but this steadily evolves more into ‘did he do it?’ akin to the style of Oscar winning film Anatomy of a Fall. This is perhaps a slightly disappointing revelation due to Rusty’s relentless persistence in solving the mystery throughout.

Overall, Presumed Innocent is a tantalising and exciting thriller series full of explosive dynamics proving it to be well worth a watch. One highlight of the series undoubtedly comes from court room scenes, which provide audiences with an exhilarating back-and-forth spectacle rivalling some of the best in crime based media.

Presumed Innocent debuts on Apple TV June 12.