Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey
Have you ever tried to unkink a hose that’s been lying around in the yard all winter? Or tried to get through a big plate of spaghetti when the noodles are all twisted together? Or sorted through a huge box of family photographs that have been sitting in a basement shelf for years? Those are the kinds of images that went through my head when, after a conversation with a co-worker, I renewed my acquaintance with 1990’s Presumed Innocent. I didn’t remember how convoluted and complicated the plot was—and how much fun it was to try tounravel it.
Harrison Ford stars as Rusty Sabich, a prosecuting attorney. He is tasked with leading an investigation into the rape and murder of another prosecutor, Carolyn Polhemus, played by Greta Scacchi. Rusty has one problem, though: the married Rusty had had an affair with Carolyn, who’d dumped him after she decided that he couldn’t help her move ahead in her career. Rusty manipulates the investigation, hoping to keep his role quiet. But then another problem arises: Rusty’s boss (Brian Dennehey) loses an election and the new DA, aided by a cop who’s not Rusty’s friend, finds evidence that points to Rusty as the killer. Knowing he’s in a jam, Rusty hires Sandy Stern (Raul Julia), a leading criminal defense lawyer, to help him. Eventually, the case goes to trial, with an upright judge, some missing evidence, a twist in the forensic evidence, a little perjury, etc. After all of that, the murderer is revealed—but that’s just another kink in the hose.
Even with all of the switchbacks, plot twists, and “wait a minute” moments, this movie is a real treat. It will keep you guessing right until the very end—and the end may not be something that you like very much. The acting is first class, and Alan Pakula’s direction is top notch. In 2008, Presumed Innocent was picked as number 11 on the ABA’s list of the 25 Greatest Legal Movies, and that’s high praise indeed.
Scott Turow was a creative writing fellow at Stanford when he decided to go to law school. After graduating from Harvard, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s office in Chicago, prosecuting cases involving government corruption. He then returned to writing. In 1987, his book Presumed Innocent came out, and after that Turow continued to publish exciting, believable thrillers with legal settings. (Two others were turned into movies.) He continues to practice law, doing mostly pro bono work.
This is one that I’d sort of forgotten, but one I was glad to discover again.