Carolyn Polhemus, an up-and-comer in the Kindle County D.A.'s Office, is found viciously murdered in her home. Immediately her boss, D.A. Raymond Horgan and his chief deputy, Rusty Sabich ...
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Carolyn Polhemus, an up-and-comer in the Kindle County D.A.'s Office, is found viciously murdered in her home. Immediately her boss, D.A. Raymond Horgan and his chief deputy, Rusty Sabich start an investigation. Horgan, however, is in the middle of a campaign to keep his job, which he ultimately loses to former subordinate Nico Della Guardia. Della Guardia and his new deputy, Tommy Molto, decide to prosecute Sabich for Carolyn's murder when it is revealed that Sabich was a former lover of Polhemus. Horgan also turns against his former subordinate, and Rusty soon realizes he has few friends left - except for Sandy Stern, whom he has often faced on the other side of the courtroom, and who will become his new defense lawyer when he is put on trial for murder. Investigation by Stern and his team leads them to think that Rusty was framed for murder - by Molto, who wanted Sabich's job and was trying to punish him for backing Horgan. Is Rusty Sabich innocent...or is he a murderer? Written by
Paul Winfield read the novel in the late 80s and loved it, telling his agent if a movie was ever made, he had to have the role of the judge. A few years later when the movie was actually in preproduction, Winfield campaigned hard for the part of the judge, impressing director Alan J. Pakula, who auditioned him and subsequently cast him. See more »
Carolyn's name is spelled "Polehemus" on the bond slip, while in the credits it is spelled "Polhemus". See more »
I'm a prosecutor. I'm part of the business of accusing, judging and punishing. I explore the evidence of a crime and determine who is charged, who is brought to this room to be tried before his peers. I present my evidence to the jury and they deliberate upon it. They must determine what really happened. If they cannot, we will not know whether the accused deserves to be freed or should be punished. If they cannot find the truth, what is our hope of justice?
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When Carolyn Polhemus, a young prosecutor employed by the District Attorney of an American city, is found murdered, the job of investigating her murder is given to Rusty Sabich, one of her colleagues and her former lover. The DA, who is shortly coming up for re-election, wants quick results, but Sabich seems to be making slow progress. The DA is defeated in the election, and Sabich finds himself arrested by his successor and charged with the murder. The evidence against him initially seems strong, but more questions emerge during his trial. Is he really guilty? Is someone trying to frame him? If so, who? Was the murder connected to an investigation which Carolyn was pursuing into judicial corruption? Or was it connected to her complex sex life? We learn, through flashbacks, the story of her affair with Sabich and that she was promiscuous, sleeping with a number of influential men who could help her career, including not only Sabich but also the DA himself.
Besides being a legal thriller, "Presumed Innocent" is also a study in contrasts in character- either contrasts between two different persons or between the inner and outer person. Harrison Ford is often good at playing rather stolid individuals who have difficulty in showing their feelings but whose impassive exterior can hide powerful emotions. Norman Spencer in "What Lies Beneath" was one such individual; Sabich is another. Both are men whose life spins out of control after they become involved in extramarital affairs. Fortunately for Sabich, he has someone to take control on his behalf, his smooth and fluent defence lawyer Sandy Stern. Ford and Raul Julia, who plays Stern, form a double act in the second half of the film, both playing their parts very well. Sabich and Stern are both lawyers, but with very different characters and different approaches to the law. Sabich is determined to tell the truth as he sees it; the wily Stern sees the law as a game to be won on behalf of his client rather than a search for truth. If winning involves preventing the truth from emerging, so be it.
There is also a contrast between Sabich and his former lover Carolyn. While he is undemonstrative but inwardly emotional, she is outwardly seductive and flirtatious but inwardly cold-hearted. Both Sabich's wife Barbara, seemingly noble and forgiving, and the judge who tries his case, may have hidden secrets. Raymond Horgan, the DA, initially seems to be a friend of Sabich, but later turns against him when his self-interest dictates.
This concentration on character pays off, raising the film above the run-of-the-mill legal thriller. Contrasts between the various characters, and their inner conflicts, give rise to a gripping courtroom drama, one of the best in recent years. The pace of the film never flagged, and it held my attention throughout. The ending (which I will not reveal) has been criticised as either predictable or implausible. In my view it was perhaps unlikely, but neither completely unbelievable nor inconsistent with what has gone before. I certainly did not predict it. This is a tense and watchable drama. 7/10
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