Jake Gyllenhaal in Presumed Innocent

Tribeca 2024: Presumed Innocent Updates the 90s Classic With Mixed Results

Apple's newest series swaps Jake Gyllenhaal for Harrison Ford in this twisty courtroom drama.

Remakes are difficult to get right. They’re immediately saddled with expectations: on the one hand, the filmmakers have to be close enough to the original to be recognizable, but on the other, they have to be original and different enough to not just be a retread.  It’s a tough line to walk, and even more so when the source material a classic film or television series. Presumed Innocent is a series dealing with this quandary. Whether you consider it a new adaption of the 1987 novel or a remake of the 1990 film starring Harrison Ford, the series has some very big shoes to fill. 

The setup remains the same: Rusty Sabich (this time played by Jake Gyllenhaal) is an assistant district attorney in the city of Chicago.  He has a wife, Barbara (Ruth Negga) and two kids, Jaden and Kyle (Chase Infiniti and Kingston Rumi Southwick).  He’s smart, capable, and successful, the right-hand man of district attorney Raymond Horgan (Bill Camp), who is on his way to losing re-election against his former protege Nico Della Guardia (O-T Fagbenle). Nico is backed by Rusty’s rival, Tomy Molto (Peter Saarsgard).  

O-T Fagbenle and Peter Sarsgaard in Presumed Innocent
O-T Fagbenle and Peter Sarsgaard in Presumed Innocent

Near the start of the series, Rusty’s co-worker Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve) is found bound and murdered. He is assigned the case, which would be all well and good if he hadn’t been having a months-long affair with her that she ended only a short time ago.  When Della Guardia wins the election, Rusty is charged with murder, and the bulk of the story is a courtroom drama to decide his innocence. It’s a great setup, only complicated by the number of players, yet the characters are so well drawn that it’s only a lot to summarize, not difficult to follow.

Gyllenhaal is both the star and the producer of the series, and his take on Rusty is updated as well, far more emotional and, at times, coming apart at the seams in a way that Harrison Ford only hinted at. It is a raw performance in classic Gyllenhaal fashion; he is certainly willing to go where the story is taking him and, if nothing else, he has an erotic presence that serves the flashbacks well. Make no mistake, this series is horny as hell, and that’s a refreshing change from the recent sexless landscape of movies and tv.

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The series supporting cast is excellent. O-T Fagbenle continues his string of high-profile appearances and plays Della Guardia with exactly the kind of swagger one would need to win an election by throwing his boss under the bus. Ruth Negga has some great moments as Barbara and is a far more realized portrayal of this character than the 1990 film. She has real chemistry with Gyllenhaal, but it’s not necessarily electric; she knows he had an affair and that hangs over their every interaction, which gives Negga a lot to work with, whether she’s confronting or comforting him. 

Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel in Presumed Innocent
Bill Camp and Elizabeth Marvel in Presumed Innocent

Bill Camp is an actor who routinely shows up in high-profile TV shows and makes them better just by being there, and that is true here as well. He’s great in the courtroom scenes, but he might be at his best when Raymond is sharing scenes with his wife Lorraine, played by his real-life wife Elizabeth Marvel. They’re both great character actors and their real-life chemistry together really works.

Renate Reinsve is a great actor but, unfortunately, she doesn’t have much to do in the series. The character Carolyn Polhemus is an important one, but this version of the story strips out some of her conniving nature. This is a good idea on paper, but all of her screen time is in flashbacks, and the bulk of those — especially in the first half of the series — are wordless montages of the affair. Those scenes are often very sexy, but they’re not substantive to Carolyn’s character outside of the fact that Rusty is obsessed with her. 

The real standout in the series, though, is Saarsgard as Tommy Molto. Tommy is a narcissist with an inferiority complex, a man so desperate to be cool and liked by all that he comes across as repulsive to most around him. He wants to be the best, but deep down, he knows that he’s only an average attorney, and his hatred for Rusty – who is exactly the kind of lawyer that he wishes he could be – drips off his every word and action. It’s a great performance and especially compelling during the courtroom scenes. 

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Renate Reinsve in Presumed Innocent
Renate Reinsve in Presumed Innocent

Where the series falters is in its updates to the story. For fans of the original, some characters are removed or re-positioned. Case in point: there’s no Sandy Sterns in this version (though maybe it’s a good idea not to try to top Raúl Juliá). There are also several red herrings that go nowhere, and while none of these are exactly bad on their own, altogether they make the story feel flabby. This doesn’t even include some of the later changes, one of which is actually a little mind-boggling.  

If you’ve seen or even heard of the novel or the original film, then you know the story has a twist ending. This version certainly builds to something as well, but I couldn’t tell you what it was even if I wanted to (Apple only supplied seven of the eight episodes for review). This makes it difficult to form a conclusion about the series because mysteries like this one are made or broken by their ending. Without knowing what the ending is, it’s hard to know if the series is going to satisfy or not. The preceding seven episodes are good, but they don’t offer much more than other courtroom dramas do.

The result here is a show that is worth your time if you are a fan of courtroom dramas, Jake Gyllenhaal, and horny media, but it’s not the event TV that perhaps Apple was hoping for.

Presumed Innocent had its premiere at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. It will premiere globally on June 12 exclusively on Apple TV+.

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