Monday, May 3, 2010

'Presumed Innocent' is declared mediocre

Presumed Innocent (1990)
Starring: Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, John Spencer, and Paul Winfield
Director: Alan Pakula
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

As District Attorney Raymond Horga (Dennehy) fights for his political life, one of his prosecutors is brutally murdered. He assigns his chief deputy, Rusty Sabich (Ford) to investigate the case--an awkward situation for Rusty, as he recently ended an illicit affair with the murder victim. As evidence starts to emerge, Rusty and the homicide detective he is working with (Spencer) develop a theory that the prosecutor was murdered to cover up corruption in the D.A.'s office. However, even stronger evidence emerges that Rusty murdered the woman in a jealous rage, and he is soon arrested and made to stand trial. He hires Sandy Stern (Julia), a Perry Mason-like defense attorney, and together they pick their way through a maze of deceit, political double-dealings, and government corruption. Can even the mighty Sandy Stern find the key evidence to get hard-ass judge Larren Lyttle to dismiss the case against Rusty--particularly when evidence points to the judge possibly being one of the corrupt officials?

"Presumed Innocent" is a so-so courtroom drama, weighed down by a too-slow first act, and a cast that seems almost as if it is sleepwalking through the movie. Ford, Dennehy, and Bedelia seem particuarly listless. Out of the entire cast, only Spencer, Julia, and Winfield seem to display any energy at all--with the latter two being particularly fun in their roles once the movie shifts into the courtroom.

On the upside, "Presumed Innocent" plays fair with the audience as far as the "whodunnit" aspect of the film goes, and I always appreciate a film that's confident enough in its story to do that. The film gives the audience so many clues and hints that I guessed the identity of the murderer and why and how well before the movie gave us the "big revelation"... but that was actually okay, because it does a good job of giving enough alternate suspects that I doubted my conclusion. The ending also played so well that I minded solving the mystery at the beginning of the second act even less.

I'm a tremendous fan of courtroom dramas, and I enjoy watching them. "Presumed Innocent" had just enough problems to knock it down to the low side of average. It's a shame, because it should have been a full-fledged winner.

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