A star rating of 3 out of 5.

Nowadays, it's very rare to find a Hollywood star who hasn't made the transition to long-form TV. The streaming age has changed the way the medium is viewed, after it was once considered lesser than its big screen counterpart.


However, one actor who is only just making the leap is Jake Gyllenhaal, an A-lister and Oscar nominee who has wowed us in films from Donnie Darko to Zodiac, Prisoners to Nightcrawler.

Unsurprising, he is making his TV debut on Apple TV+, a streamer which been banking on big stars for years, while the likes of Disney Plus has been leaning on IP-driven content.

However, perhaps more surprisingly for a streamer known for its focus on originality, he is starring in a retelling of a story we've seen on screen before - Presumed Innocent.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Camp in Presumed Innocent. There is police tape behind them and Camp is sat on the floor
Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Camp in Presumed Innocent. Apple TV+

An adaptation of a novel which was previously adapted in 1990 for the big screen, then with Harrison Ford as the lead, Presumed Innocent follows Rusty Sabich, the chief deputy prosecutor in Chicago who one morning hears that his colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, has been brutally murdered in what appears to be a bondage-style incident.

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It turns out, Rusty and Carolyn were more than just colleagues - they were, at one time, lovers, who were having an affair behind his wife Barbara's back. The affair ended and Rusty told Barbara the truth, but they stayed together for their children.

However, as it becomes clear Rusty hasn't been totally honest with everyone, or in fact anyone, he becomes the primary suspect in the murder investigation, and finds himself on trial.

It's a gripping premise ripe for dramatic exploration, but whenever a story has been dramatised on screen before, particularly in such a high profile way (I mean, Harrison Ford!), you have to ask why it deserved to be retold. The answer here, it seems, is Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Camp in Presumed Innocent standing together in a courtroom next to a police officer
Jake Gyllenhaal and Bill Camp in Presumed Innocent. Apple TV+

Having seen seven of the eight episodes, it's fair to say that that answer is not incorrect. Gyllenhaal is masterful in the role, bringing to bear all the skills we have been accustomed to seeing from him in past performances.

The man is a master of the untrustworthy, even repulsive, protagonist - just look at his performance as Lou Bloom in Nightcrawler.

Rusty perhaps couldn't be further from Lou as a character, but as time goes on, you'll find that he's just as difficult to root for. Rusty is an arrogant, self-centred and manipulative compulsive liar, who struggles to convince even us, the viewers, of his innocence. The tension of following such a flawed protagonist is always intriguing, and always lets an actor show what they're made of.

Of course, Gyllenhaal isn't the only actor worth his salt here. The cast is chock-full of impressive performers, with the opportunity to watch these high-calibre stars grapple with meaty themes and flawed characters really being the reason to tune in.

Ruth Negga in Presumed Innocent sitting in bed looking at Gyllenhaal
Ruth Negga in Presumed Innocent. Apple TV+

For instance, Ruth Negga continues to be one of the best supporting performers working today in need of a leading role. Here, she is magnificent as Barbara, bringing to life the tension at the heart of Barbara and Rusty's relationship with a hugely empathetic turn.

Meanwhile, there's fun to be had in watching Gyllenhaal go head to head with his brother in law Peter Sarsgaard as another loathsome central character, a slimy prosecutor, Tommy Molto, who is both Rusty's equal but also his opposite. The characters hate each other viscerally and are well-matched intellectually, meaning their sparring helps to light up the courtroom scenes.

The mystery itself is compelling and, like any thriller series with any sense at all, the cliffhangers keep you gripped and coming back. The information is drip-fed, with numerous revelations helping to slowly shed light on the truth.

However, this is also where the series falls down somewhat. The truth is, there is already a well-paced version of this story you can watch right now, and it will only take you around two hours.

O-T Fagbenle and Peter Sarsgaard in Presumed Innocent, stood and sat in a court room
O-T Fagbenle and Peter Sarsgaard in Presumed Innocent. Apple TV+

There's always a worry when a story which has been succinctly told as a film is translated into a series, and boy does the extended runtime show here.

Each episode clocks in at 45 minutes, meaning the entire run lasts for approximately six hours. That may not be a marathon by TV standards, but when there's a mystery at its centre, one which we know can be wrapped up in a third of the time, there are inevitably points at which the drama drags on.

Scenes with a marriage counsellor, a romance storyline between Barbara and a bartender and deliberations between Molto and new district attorney Nico Della Guardia all pad out the runtime - but to little additional effect.

Surprisingly, despite many of these set-ups theoretically being insightful, it still feels like we're not getting to know all that much about the character we didn't already know, and these scenes merely suck the propulsive energy out of the story.

This is also one of the few Apple TV+ shows where its visuals are a detriment, rather than a selling point. Most of the streamer's output is beautifully shot, but this is filled with dim lighting, dull settings and little to distinguish it from other courtroom dramas, beyond the idea that its own literal darkness in some way emphasises the darkness of the story.

There's no particular filmmaking innovation here, meaning the show entirely rests on the strength of its performances and the complexity of its characters, as well as the intrigue of a well-paced story. One of these it can rely on; the other, not so much.

O-T Fagbenle and Jake Gyllenhaal in Presumed Innocent, stood next to each other and looking at each other
O-T Fagbenle and Jake Gyllenhaal in Presumed Innocent. Apple TV+

All in all, Presumed Innocent is a somewhat unremarkable series, bolstered by its remarkable performances. It's an acting masterclass, with a strong central premise that has simply been stretched too thin.

This might be one instance where a binge watch actually benefits the viewing experience. If viewers want to watch the episodes as they are released, they will have to wait a week at a time to get spoon-fed the tiniest morsel of plot progression. If they wait to binge it and watch the episodes back to back, the developments may feel like sparse.

Either way, the series may still be worth tuning in to, not least to see Gyllenhaal grappling with the long-form format and excelling, taking the time to craft a truly compelling, desperately flawed lead.

Presumed Innocent arrives on Apple TV+ on Wednesday 12th June 2024. Sign up to Apple TV+ now.


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