Presumed Innocent review: "An underbaked legal drama that’s saved by an incredibly strong ensemble cast"

Presumed Innocent
(Image: © Apple TV Plus)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

An underbaked and unnecessarily modern adaptation of Scott Turow's 1987 novel that’s saved by complex and moving performances from an out-of-this-world ensemble cast.

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We're in the golden age of reboots and remakes, and books are getting adapted and re-adapted left and right. When Presumed Innocent hit shelves in 1987, the rights to a film adaptation had already been purchased and Harrison Ford was set to star. Director Sydney Pollack knew he had a hit on his hands. Fast forward some 37 years and David E. Kelley, the former attorney turned showrunner responsible for high-quality hit shows like Boston Legal and Big Little Lies, has a new, more modern vision for Scott Turow's gripping novel. The idea, however, is better than the execution.

Though we could call it a reboot, the miniseries is meant to serve as a modern-day, cell-phones-and-all, adaptation of Turow's book. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Rozat "Rusty" Sabich, a renowned prosecutor who is charged with the gruesome murder of his colleague – and mistress – fellow prosecutor Carolyn Polhemus (Renate Reinsve). It doesn't take too much detective work to put Rusty in Carolyn's home on the night of the murder, prosecutor Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard) is more than ready to put Rusty behind bars. 

Sure, the series is gripping and intense – the way you’d expect any legal thriller to be – but it struggles to set itself apart from other present-day crime dramas, relying on text messages and iPhone videos to convey obsession. Rusty is obsessed with Carolyn, everyone is obsessed with their affair, but the series doesn't take the time to develop her character. Even after seven 45-minute episodes, Carolyn seems more myth than person, and the flashbacks present a pretty standard, run-of-the-mill that hardly seems worthy of murder, let alone an argument.

Come for the plot

Presumed Innocent

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Now, that doesn’t mean this series isn’t worth a watch. Jake Gyllenhaal, in his first-ever TV role, proves once again that he thrives in a darker, high-stakes setting where things get a little weird, a lot violent, and anger is the only way to communicate. But Gyllenhaal’s excellent performance is an incredibly strong ensemble cast where not one character seems weak or out of place. 

Peter Sarsgaard’s Tommy Molto is nothing short of terrifying, keeping eerily calm and smiley throughout his entire takedown of Rusty’s life – even while he’s interrogating a grief-stricken preteen on a witness stand. Ruth Negga plays Barbara Sabich, Rusty’s wife, and the show gives Barbara the main character treatment that she has so long deserved. Barbara holds so much hatred in her soul for Rusty’s infidelity, but it’s quiet. The rage is conveyed in brief, soft moments that keep you on edge for fear she might snap at any moment.

There are moments in the show where we forget how much Rusty has at stake – mainly because he's running around on side quests that do absolutely nothing to help the case, but his children quickly remind us. Kingston Rumi Southwick and Chase Infiniti play Kyle and Jaden – in what I truly believe are rising star roles. While I'm not sold on the drama and depth and weight of Rusty and Carolyn's affair, his kids sure are. The way they deal with the ongoing trial, with the struggle of whether they should forgive their father in the first place is honestly enough to make me want a Kyle and Jaden spin-off series. 

Stay for the cast

Presumed Innocent

(Image credit: Apple TV Plus)

Both the novel and film are widely regarded for their shocking twist ending, and that's probably why you're here. At the time of writing this, however, I don't know how the season ends. The penultimate episode concludes with a pretty wild cliffhanger, and the nature of this leads me to believe the show will stay loyal to the source material and end on the same kind of twist. If you know, you know. If you're unaware of the novel's famous twist, the show does a pretty good job of letting the viewer play armchair detective. Rusty might be the only suspect, sure, but everyone seems suspicious. 

While Presumed Innocent ultimately fails to make a case for why a modern-day adaptation was necessary in the first place, it's still worth a watch if only for the absolutely out-of-this-world ensemble cast. If anything, it's a show about how one big bad decision snowballs into the worst possible scenario, and how everyone decides to cope (or not). Come for Jake, stay for Ruth Negga and Peter Sarsgaard, and pick up a copy of the novel afterward.

Presumed Innocent is set to hit Apple TV Plus on June 12. For more, check out our list of the best new TV shows coming your way in 2024 and beyond.

Lauren Milici
Senior Writer, Tv & Film

Lauren Milici is a Senior Entertainment Writer for GamesRadar+ currently based in the Midwest. She previously reported on breaking news for The Independent's Indy100 and created TV and film listicles for Ranker. Her work has been published in Fandom, Nerdist, Paste Magazine, Vulture, PopSugar, Fangoria, and more.