Follow TV Tropes


Film / Presumed Innocent

Go To

A 1990 Courtroom Drama/mystery Thriller directed by Alan J. Pakula, starring Harrison Ford, Greta Scacchi, Bonnie Bedelia, Raúl Juliá and Brian Dennehy, with a score by John Williams.

After prosecuting attorney Carolyn Polehmus (Scacchi) is found murdered, deputy prosecutor Rozat 'Rusty' Sabich (Ford) is assigned to investigate. However Sabich had been having an affair with Carolyn prior to her murder and is deeply conflicted. After he digs too deep and uncovers corruption at the highest levels of the judicial system, Sabich finds himself accused of the murder and must fight to clear his name, with the help of his lawyer (Julia) and his wife (Bedelia).

Adapted from the 1987 novel of the same name by Scott Turow. Turow wrote a Spin-Off centered on Sandy Stern called The Burden of Proof , which was adapted into a 1992 miniseries by Mike Robe. Some twenty years later, Turow published a full sequel, Innocent, which was also adapted into a film in 2011 and also directed by Mike Robe.

Tropes Include:

  • Abusive Parents: One of the cases prosecuted by Sabich, in which a little boy's mother squeezed his head in a vise.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: Two examples. A reference is made to the "Night Saints", with both Sabich and Lipranzer interrogating a man who is one. It isn't explained who they are, nor what connection Sabich has with them, while in the book it's said they were a street gang he broke up with a successful prosecution. They also identify Larren Little due to the man's reference toward him as "Judge Motherfucker". Again, this isn't explained. The book related that he got this nickname due to a joke in court once claiming that "motherfucker" was a term of endearment among black people. A viewer who hasn't read the book will likely be left no idea what either of these means.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Carolyn is an unfettered careerist. Raymond gradually betrayed his principles to remain in office.
  • Amoral Attorney: The rule rather than the exception.
  • Asshole Victim: Carolyn Polehmus resorted to seducing colleagues and instituting bribery on behalf of Judge Lyttle to advance her career. Ironically, the former and not the latter got her killed.
  • Book Ends: Shots of an empty courtroom as Rusty muses on justice and his role as a prosecutor.
  • Broken Pedestal: Sabich is betrayed by Horgan, his mentor.
  • Captain Obvious: Sabich tells his lawyer that he is innocent and quickly regrets it, because the assumption is an implicit rule of the profession.
  • Clear My Name: Sabich demands this.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Twisted, the coroner is tainted by the prosecution to present Sabich in a bad light.
  • Crusading Lawyer: The young Sabich.
  • Destroy the Evidence: The glass and Lipranzer, eager to enforce a Let Off by the Detective.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Rusty's wife Barbara killed Carolyn for sleeping with her husband.
  • Femme Fatale: Carolyn.
  • 555: On the bribery file-the subject of the bribery file later gives out such a number.
  • Frame-Up: Not intended, but Barbara killed Carolyn and the evidence resulted in Sabich going on trial for it.
  • Friend on the Force: Detective Lipranzer, a crucial ally to Sabich.
  • Gone Horribly Right: Sabich's wife killed Carolyn as revenge for the affair with Rosat, only to have him arrested and tried for murder, which she tearfully insists she didn't intend to happen.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Carolyn Polhemus, played by Greta Scacchi. Sabich, played by Harrison Ford.
  • Hollywood Law: It's unthinkable that the police wouldn't search for the murder weapon because "if they didn't find it that'd make Sabich appear innocent." Not finding it hurt the prosecution no matter what. Of course, this was necessary to the film's plot, since finding it earlier would have insured Sabich's conviction and prevented the twist ending. On that note, the dismissal of the case is unlikely, as there was plenty of evidence against Sabich remaining after one key piece was successfully discredited by his attorney with the implication that it was fabricated. Dismissing the case solely on this basis was suspicious, not only due to that but also because Sabich's defense attorney had told the judge they knew he'd taken bribes. Sabich's attorney insists the judge didn't rule for them because of this, but it's left nebulous. The dismissal could get overturned if the prosecution appealed the ruling, and Sabich could be tried again on the same charges.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One: When Rusty tells Barbara Nat is old enough at nine to have responsibility about feeding his pet, Barbara notes all the things Rusty must have done when he was nine, including feeding all the pets in the neighborhood and practicing law. Rusty's response; "I didn't start practicing law until I was 10."
  • Lady Macbeth: Carolyn goads Rusty to force Raymond into retirement. She loses all interest in him the very moment Sabich outright refuses her plans to betray his mentor.
  • Law Procedural
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: A variation is the main plot-a cold-blooded murder is camouflaged as a date that got violent.
  • May–December Romance: Carolyn and Raymond, Carolyn and Judge Larren Lyttle.
  • Mistaken Confession: When Sabich sarcastically snarls, "Yeah, you're right" in response to Tommy Molto's outright accusing him of Carolyn's murder-and the nitwit promptly declares his intent to testify at the trial. Judge Lyttle reads Molto the riot act for either being so stupid as to believe Sabich was actually confessing, or so unethical as to know he was being sarcastic but intending to use it as evidence anyway.
  • Motive Misidentification: See Red Herring below.
  • My God, You Are Serious!: Sabich says this verbatim as he's hauled into an office and accused of Carolyn's murder. He scoffs at first, but as one of the prosecutors continues to list the evidence against him and another warns him not to say anything without an attorney present, he realizes he's in trouble.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Set in the fictional 'Kindle County', most likely a stand in for Chicago.
  • Oh, Crap!: Molto when he realizes after glancing at Painless' autopsy notes that Carolyn had her tubes tied, which means his entire autopsy is thrown into question, and so is the prosecution's case.
  • Ominous Legal Phrase Title: From the legal maxim that everyone is presumed innocent until evidence is prevented otherwise; the burden of proof always falls on the prosecution.
  • Posthumous Character: Carolyn Polehmus.
  • Really Gets Around: Carolyn Polehmus.
  • Red Herring: All the political intrigue surrounding Carolyn Polehmus. It really comes down to a classic and simple scenario-a married man has an affair. The mistress is murdered. The man is innocent. So who is guilty...?
    • As well as Sabich's harassment of Carolyn, indicative of his obsession with her. Not until the end of the film do we learn for certain that he's not her killer.
  • The Reveal
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Sabich's attorney implies to the judge that information about his corruption would be revealed if the trial goes on.
  • Sarcastic Confession: Inverted by Sabich. His prosecutor thinks it gets played straight, but the judge rebukes him.
  • Sex for Services: Manipulative Carolyn uses sex as a tool to advance in her career.
  • Spoiler Title: If you're a John Williams fan who hasn't read the book, see the movie before getting the soundtrack album (even by his standards for giving away major plot points, the track listing gives away a major plot point. As in, HUGE).
  • Spousal Privilege: A plot point. Played with and invoked.
  • Woman Scorned: This leads one to Murder the Hypotenuse.
  • Your Mom: When calling out the prosecution for trying to include Sabich's Mistaken Confession as evidence, Judge Lyttle adds, "In my neighborhood, had Mr. Sabich come from those parts, he would have said, 'Yo mama'."