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Presumed Innocent
1990 - R - 127 Mins.
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy, Raul Julia, Bonnie Bedelia, Paul Winfield
Review by: John Ulmer
Harrison Ford is good at the everyman roles because he strikes you as an everyman. One of my sister's (many, many, uncountable number of) friends met Ford on a beach in America sometime last year; they talked for a while as they sat on the beach. Ford was tired of being harrassed by rabid fans and he just wanted someone to confide in as a normal person might do.

I think that's the key to so many of his best roles. Even when he played a deranged psycho killer in "What Lies Beneath" he seemed like Average John Smith. And, in his most famous - and best - role, as Dr. Henry "Indiana" Jones, he was still the everyman college professor who happened to be a superhero archaeologist when called into action. And even then he was a reluctant hero, not exactly like "Superman" but more of a "Batman" or "Spider-Man" or Jack Sparrow; a hero not necessarily eager to help out, but a hero who knew it was his destiny to do so and carried out what he had to do with some sort of dry humor necessary to keep the character alive.

Harry's an assistant state attorney in "Presumed Innocent" - charged for the murder of a beautiful young woman who used to be a mistress and who was recently found dead, slaughtered by someone who left behind little clues. And what little clues that were left behind all point to him as the murderer.

Rusty (Ford) is happily married to Barbara (Bonnie Bedalia), but he's been having an on-the-side romance with Carolyn (Greta Scacchi). She stopped the affair before it got too far, and that is the courtroom prosecutors' motive for Rusty. His phone bills indicate that he called her the same day she was murdered, and at the scene of the crime was found a glass stained with his fingerprints and his own semen.

Evidence like this would throw a man right into jail, but Rusty has a great defense lawyer in Sandy Stern (the late Raul Julia), who is confident to prove that Rusty is not the murderer. But if this is the truth, then how does all the evidence point directly to him?

The film is based on the novel by Scott Turow, and its adaptation makes you wish that the filmmakers behind all of Grisham's books would get it right, too. But in all fairness, and as much as I enjoy Grisham's writing, he's typically thin on actual plots, and it is his writing style that intices the reader and draws him in so you are unable to stop turning the pages. Perhaps that is why the big-screen adaptations always fail -- film is an entirely different medium than literature, which too many Hollywood executives forget these days.

Crichton novels generally make good because Michael Crichton is an extraordinary researcher, able to make the most insane plots seem utterly real. Stephen King, on the other hand, relies on old horror genre cliches in his writing that typically do not translate well to the screen (I mean no offense to these writers, they may be good at what they do, but the fact is that some novels should not be given screen treatments).

Scott Turow's controversial novel has been done justice. This is a smart, suspenseful, tightly-woven mystery/thriller with a strong plot and characters who seem quite real and attachable. It feels like an older film than it is -- not in terms of technology but rather in terms of feeling. Hitchcock couldn't have done a better job with this material. Well...maybe.

The only real problem with this movie is Harrison Ford's haircut (he looks like he stuck his head under an active lawnmower), but that's an entirely different story.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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