I could, but will not, get into the idea Presumed Innocent is what studios were making as popular summer entertainment in the nineties. It’s simply to depressing to start that discussion.
Instead, I’ll start with the film’s strengths. Even though the second half is very strong–how did Raul Julia not get nominated for this one (or Bonnie Bedelia for that matter)–Presumed Innocent is strongest at the beginning, before the trial. The reason is numbers–the second half has, principally, star Harrison Ford, Julia, Bedelia, Paul Winfield and a little John Spencer and a glimpse of Bradley Whitford.
The first half has Ford, Bedelia, Spencer with a lot more screen time and then Brian Dennehy in a great performance. As the star, Ford is somehow perfect. He’s this leading man surrounded by character actors, but his character is right for Ford. Seeing him opposite the other actors, the approach is unquestionable.
Of course, it’s Alan J. Pakula directing with Frank Pierson helping him with the script so there’s always going to be a certain baseline of quality. Pakula resists any glamorized composition; the film looks as grimy and downtrodden–with a couple notable exceptions, Ford and Bedelia’s home in the suburbs and Dennehy’s office after he’s betrayed Ford.
The problem is mostly too much story in not enough running time. The beginning is either too long or too short, same as the middle, same as the end.
And also Greta Scacchi. She’s not in it much, but she’s lousy.
Directed by Alan J. Pakula; screenplay by Frank Pierson and Pakula, based on the novel by Scott Turow; director of photography, Gordon Willis; edited by Evan A. Lottman; music by John Williams; production designer, George Jenkins; produced by Sydney Pollack and Mark Rosenberg; released by Warner Bros.
Starring Harrison Ford (Rusty Sabich), Brian Dennehy (Raymond Horgan), Raul Julia (Sandy Stern), Bonnie Bedelia (Barbara Sabich), Paul Winfield (Judge Larren Lyttle), Greta Scacchi (Carolyn Polhemus), John Spencer (Lipranzer), Joe Grifasi (Tommy Molto), Tom Mardirosian (Nico Della Guardia), Sab Shimono (‘Painless’ Kumagai) and Bradley Whitford (Jamie Kemp).