Scott Turow wrote his first novel “Presumed Innocent” in 1987, which became a successful film three years later. In 2010, Turow wrote a sequel about those same characters; this intriguing novel was brought to the TV screen.
Author Scott Turow - Wikimedia
The main character in both novels, Rusty Sabich (Bill Pullman), has become a judge and has regained his stature in the community, which had been destroyed twenty years ago when he was on trial for the murder of his mistress. You would think that Rusty would have learned his lesson. In “Presumed Innocent,” Rusty Sabich was portrayed by Harrison Ford.
In legal circles, there had always been some doubt about Rusty’s innocence twenty years ago, particularly in the mind of Tommy Molto (Richard Schiff) who was the Chief Prosecutor at that time. It had always festered in Molto’s mind that Rusty got off and had even become a Chief Justice in spite of the negative publicity he suffered over the death of his mistress at the time.
In the sequel, Rusty and his wife Barbara (Marcia Gay Harden) have a handsome 28-year-old son Nat (Callard Harris) who is also an attorney. Through flashbacks, which are somewhat disconcerting and confusing, it is brought to our attention that all is not well between Rusty and Barbara. Barbara suffers from depression which she attempts to counteract through medication. They both love their son Nat deeply, and both live for his happiness.
Bill Pullman - Wikimedia
Death by Overdose
The opening scenes of “Innocent” revealed that Rusty had sat by the dead body of his wife Barbara in her bed for twenty four hours before reporting her death to the authorities. This shortcoming alone was enough to provoke suspicion on the judge. When it was revealed that Barbara had an overdose of the anti-depression medication Phenelzine in her system, the Prosecutor’s office decided to put Rusty on trial for the murder of his wife.
The Beginning of an Affair
In flashback, Rusty was feted by his office on his 60th birthday, to which Barbara brought his favorite cake. At the party, it was revealed that his young law clerk Anna (Mariana Klaveno) was planning to leave Rusty’s office for a promotional position elsewhere. Barbara gleaned that day that Anna was interested in Rusty, and her son Nat commented the next day that he found Anna to be attractive. Yes, it was obvious that Anna thought highly of her boss, and when Rusty was helping her to gather up her belongings in preparation for her move, Anna revealed that she was strongly attracted to Rusty. Rusty resisted her attempts at seduction. It did not take long, however, for Rusty to succumb, and the two forged a secret liaison, sometimes meeting, using local hotel rooms for their trysts. Their affair lasted for a year, until the time of Barbara’s death.
Marcia Gay Harden - Wikimedia
Molto Will Prosecute
Prosecutor Tommy Molto was reluctant to take on the case against Rusty Sabich, still feeling pain for the loss of his case twenty years ago. His assistant, Jimmy Brand (Tahmoh Penikett) was gung-ho about getting Sabich this time around, and convinced Molto that they could win. Meanwhile, Rusty had broken off his relationship with Anna, realizing that it could hamper his case. Anna was heartbroken, but agreed to separate. Rusty has, as his attorney, the man who won his case twenty years ago, Sandy Stern (Alfred Molina), in whom he has great confidence.
Two months later, Rusty received a phone call from Anna asking him to meet her, which he did reluctantly. Anna revealed to Rusty that she had been seeing his son Nat, but that she had refused him for several weeks, knowing that it would not sit well with Rusty. She said that she was in love with Nat. Rusty accused her of trying to get back at him in this diabolical way, and they parted on unfriendly terms.
The Case Against Rusty
At Rusty’s trial, Molto and Jimmy Brand went after Rusty vehemently. They discovered that Rusty’s fingerprints were on Barbara’s bottle of Phenelzine, and that his computer revealed searches on the effects of Phenelzine. They also discovered that Rusty had consulted with a divorce attorney, and that Barbara was aware of it. On the last evening of Barbara’s life, Nat had brought Anna to his parents’ home for dinner, where Rusty had purchased wine, cheese and salami, all products which exacerbated the effects of Phenelzine. Jimmy Brand had also discovered that Rusty had had a recent affair, but it could not be determined who the woman was. Nat and Anna attended Rusty’s trial faithfully.
Alfred Molina - Wikimedia
Rusty Violates the Rules
Just prior to his trial, Rusty had been involved in prosecuting a man named John Harnason (Don Ackerman) who had been accused of poisoning his lover with arsenic. Harnason was out on bail and encountered Rusty in the past year in the lobby of one of his tryst hotels, and asked him if his appeal would be accepted. Breaking all the rules of confidence, Rusty told him to prepare for the worst. Harnason then left town, violating the law. His testimony at the trial included the fact that he met Rusty in a hotel lobby.
Obstruction of Justice
Attorneys, of course, know the law so well that they also know what an offender can get away with. Rusty was aware that if he pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, all other charges would be dismissed. Molto was disheartened at the news that Rusty was considering this plea. Jimmy Brand reminded him that if Rusty were sent to jail for two years for obstruction of justice, the public would view Molto as a winner. In fact, it could put Molto in line for Rusty’s position, for which Rusty would not be eligible again. Rusty took the two years behind bars happily.
Loose Ends Tied Up
Scott Turow needed to tie up some loose ends however. Through a series of unfathomable arguments in the court room about computer access and who had inserted a cartoon after the computer was impounded, Rusty’s conviction of obstruction of justice was overturned and he was released from prison. It was only in a conversation with his father on the day of his release that Nat, as well as the viewer, became cognizant of the actual facts of Barbara’s death, and to what extent Rusty was involved. You will not read the Spoiler here, but it is a doozy. Scott Turow, an attorney himself, certainly knows the law forwards and backwards. I was highly impressed with the outcome of this film. Did Nat ever find out about Anna’s affair with his father? Watch the movie and you will find out.
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