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Think you know how it ends? David Kelley's 'Presumed Innocent' will keep you guessing


This is FRESH AIR. "Presumed Innocent," Scott Turow's 1987 bestseller about a prosecutor accused of the murder of a colleague, was made into a movie in 1990, starring Harrison Ford. Now it's being remade as an eight-part miniseries by Apple TV+, streaming weekly with the first two episodes premiering yesterday. Jake Gyllenhaal stars. And this updated version is created for television by David E. Kelley. Our TV critic David Bianculli has seen seven of the eight episodes and has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: David E. Kelley had graduated from law school and moved to LA for his first job in TV, writing for the hit NBC courtroom series "LA Law." That was in 1986, the year before author Scott Turow published his bestseller "Presumed Innocent." A movie version of the book followed, but not by Kelley. He was busy writing for television, including such popular Emmy-winning legal series as "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice." More recently, Kelley has enjoyed a late-career renaissance creating acclaimed TV adaptations of such novels as "Big Little Lies," "Mr. Mercedes" and "Nine Perfect Strangers." And now he's returning to the arena he knows best - the courtroom drama - with a new eight-part adaptation of "Presumed Innocent" for Apple TV+.

In the hands of Kelley and his two co-writers, this miniseries version isn't just an expansion of the original story. It's also an update and a substantial revision. I won't reveal any plot twists, but things happen in this new iteration to major characters at significant times that didn't occur in the original book or movie. And because Apple TV+ didn't provide the final episode, I don't even know if the killer is the same character identified in those earlier versions. That's how freely Kelley and company, including his two directors, have approached this material. But that's freeing in a way, as is Kelley's impressive approach to revising the story.

"Presumed Innocent" now takes place in Chicago, and in the present day, complete with cell phones and modern computers. This allows for a fresh context, which may or may not be coincidental, putting the jury trial and its legal mechanisms up against memories of the just-completed trial convicting former President Donald Trump. At the very start of this new "Presumed Innocent" series, the prosecuting attorney, played by Jake Gyllenhaal of "Brokeback Mountain," addresses the jury, and in a way that really resonates with recent events, explains the legal definition of burden of proof.


JAKE GYLLENHAAL: (As Rusty Sabich) My name is Rusty Sabich, and I am the prosecutor in this trial. Sitting over there is the accused, James McDavid. And I can tell you that he sits there not guilty, because that is what our constitution demands. Now, I will present evidence to show you that the accused committed this crime. And should you find that to be likely - likely - you got to vote not guilty. Should you find that to be very likely, you have to set him free. My job is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And being on a jury - that is a high calling. And being entrusted with the prosecution, satisfying the burden of proof, that is also a high calling. I will live up to my duty, and I ask that you rise up to yours. Let's do our jobs; shall we?

BIANCULLI: The twist in "Presumed Innocent" - one of the few that's left intact - is that very quickly, Rusty finds himself playing a very different role in the legal process. He becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a fellow prosecutor, and potentially the defendant, with some of his old colleagues prepared to oppose him in court, some of them quite eagerly. In a later episode, one of them, Tommy Molto, played by Peter Sarsgaard, explains his eagerness to the press and does so by listing real life events that occurred decades after the original novel was written.


PETER SARSGAARD: (As Tommy Molto) I will say this. There has been a grotesque and systematic lack of accountability has been going on for too long in this city. Actually, I would say, in this country, Wall Street criminally plunged innocent people into poverty with their mortgage schemes and not one banker went to prison. Pharmaceutical companies prioritize profits over patients' lives with their opioids. No one from that industry went to prison. So the message has been sent and received in America that if you're high enough, you can do and get away with just about anything. Well, not anymore. No, sir.

BIANCULLI: Peter Sarsgaard's performance is one of several in this miniseries that really stand out and elevate the drama, regardless of their amount of overall screentime. Other outstanding support comes from Ruth Negga as Rusty's wife, and, as Rusty's boss, Bill Camp, who just co-starred in Kelley's adaptation of Tom Wolfe's "A Man In Full." The executive producers of this new "Presumed Innocent," in addition to Kelley and "Lost" and "Alias" producer J.J. Abrams, include the show's star, Jake Gyllenhaal. As Rusty, he provides the drama's most pivotal and mercurial portrayal. Rusty is quick to erupt and hard to read. And even if you know how the book and movie ended, Kelley has made so many changes in this adaptation, there may be a completely different conclusion here. Don't presume anything - not even innocence.

MOSLEY: David Bianculli is a professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed "Presumed Innocent" on Apple TV+.


MOSLEY: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Thea Chaloner directed today's show. With Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.