August 06, 1990 12:00 PM

Harrison Ford, Bonnie Bedelia

PLAINTIFF: May it please the audience and the honorable court of cinematic opinion, Presumed Innocent ranks with the best murder trial movies of all time. It is paced and framed to maximum intensity by director Alan (All the President’s Men) Pakula. It is acted with precision—emotional subtlety mixed with economy of expression—by Ford, as a prosecuting attorney being tried for the murder of his conniving colleague/ex-mistress, and Bedelia, as the accused’s wife. The supporting cast is brilliant, especially Brian Dennehy as Ford’s politically driven boss, Raul Julia as Ford’s clever and none-too-scrupulous lawyer and Paul Winfield as a judge more interested in reality than protocol.

DEFENDANT: Objection! Greta Scacchi, as the victim, is hardly brilliant. True, she is very pretty; she is even shown in one dwelled-upon scene to have a very attractive small of the back and environs. But she never displays—and hardly has time to display—the sort of instantly overwhelming, go-directly-to-bonkers sex appeal that would have Ford and any number of other characters drooling all over her. Furthermore, Joe Grifasi and Tom Mardirosian, as the prosecutors who handle Ford’s case, are so buffoonishly insubstantial that it hardly seems like a fair fight. (Grifasi, who has appeared to best effect in such comic roles as Omar in Chances Are, is especially lame.)

JUDGE: Sustained.

PLAINTIFF: Let’s not overlook the fact that this is a rarity among modern films in that it respects its viewers. Pakula, who co-wrote the script with Frank (In Country) Pierson from Scott Turow’s novel, trusts his plot and cast to keep people involved. There is not even one smidgeon of onscreen violence.

SPECTATORS: (Murmurs of approval.)

JUDGE: One more outburst like that and I’ll clear the omniplex!

PLAINTIFF: Furthermore the movie’s multiple mysteries are deftly juggled with a subplot concerning Ford’s attempts to reconcile with his wife, Bedelia, who knows about his affair with Scacchi.

DEFENDANT: Objection! The reviewer is badgering the readers.

JUDGE: Since he’s a chronic offender in that regard, I’ll allow some leeway there. Overruled.

PLAINTIFF: In addition, Pakula keeps the suspense level high throughout and effectively brings off a series of twists at the end.

DEFENDANT: Objection! Who could make head or tail of that speech at the end explaining what has been going on? Did all of this happen by accident or was it carefully planned? Not to mention the fact that Dennehy does a 180-degree morality spin midway through without any explanation.

JUDGE: Let’s hold off a ruling on that until we can review the videotape.

PLAINTIFF: In summary, not since 12 Angry Men or perhaps Witness for the Prosecution or Anatomy of a Murder has there been such a gripping courtroom film and…

DEFENDANT: Objection! That kind of blurb-mongering has no place in a review. What about The Verdict, not to mention L.A. Law, or Matlock, or…

PLAINTIFF: All right, all right. The hyperbolic comparison is withdrawn. Permission requested to bargain down to something like “one splendidly acted-and-directed murder mystery film, so shrewd in its artifices that it finesses its shortcomings.”

JUDGE: Does the defense have any objections?

DEFENDANT: Well, “artifices” is kind of clunky, but other than that, no.

JUDGE: So directed. But the court would like it to go on the record that this is all a lot tougher than it ever seemed to be on Perry Mason. (R)

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