(director/writer: Alan J Pakula; screenwriters: Frank Pierson/novel by Scott Turow; cinematographer: Gordon Willis; editor: Evan Lottman; music: John Williams; cast: Harrison Ford (Rusty Sabich), Brian Dennehy (Raymond Horgan), Raúl Julia (Sandy Stern), Bonnie Bedelia (Barbara Sabich), Jesse Bradford (Nat Sabich), Paul Winfield (Judge Larren Lyttle), Greta Scacchi (Carolyn Polhemus), John Spencer (Detective Lipranzer), Joe Grifasi (Tommy Molto), Sab Shimono (Painless Kumagai), Tom Mardirosian (Nico Della Guardia), Bradley Whitford (Jamie Kemp), Leland Gantt (Leon Wells); Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Sydney Pollack/Mark Rosenberg; Warner Brothers; 1990)

“Gripping, well-acted whodunit courtroom drama.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Alan J Pakula(“All The President’s Men”/”Sophie’s Choice”/”Klute”) directs this gripping, well-acted whodunit courtroom drama. Co-writers Pakula and Frank Pierson base it on the best-selling novel by Scott Turow. It comes to a disturbing and surprising conclusion, where not everything is as it seems to be and justice gets carried out in a strange desultory way.

Rusty Sabich (Harrison Ford) is a workaholic married to the neurotic mathematician Barbara (Bonnie Bedelia), and they have a precocious 10-year-old named Nat (Jesse Bradford). Rusty is the chief deputy prosecuting attorney of Philadelphia’s Kendall County, working under his stressed-out overbearing DA mentor Raymond Horgan (Brian Dennehy). Ten days before the election for a new DA, the underdog Horgan is being challenged by slimy rival prosecutor Nico Della Guardia (Tom Mardirosian). Horgan’s campaign goes bonkers when one of his prosecutors, the sexy, much disliked and ambitious Carolyn Polhemus (Greta Scacchi) is found brutally murdered and raped in her apartment. Rusty is appointed by his boss to lead the criminal investigation and is told if he can’t get the killer in ten days, their team will lose the election. What Rusty doesn’t tell is that he had a previous fling with the bad-news Carolyn and is still bewitched by her even though she rejected him. When Horgan loses the election, the new DA, Della Guardia, appoints his wormy cohort prosecutor Tommy Molto (Joe Grifasi) to head the murder investigation. When Molto discovers a beer glass in her apartment with Rusty’s fingerprints and that Rusty’s A blood type matches the semen found in the victim, he charges him with the murder. Rusty takes no chances and hires expensive top lawyer Sandy Stern (Raúl Julia).

During the trial, Rusty relies on his shrewd defense attorney to keep the jury from knowing about his affair with the victim and under advisement from Stern does not take the stand in his defense, while his tormented wife stands by his side. The outspoken trial judge, Larren Lyttle (Paul Winfield), is forced by the clever Stern to open up a file on a perp (Leland Gantt) that implicates the legal system with bribery and corruption. This surprisingly has a dramatic effect on the trial even though it has nothing to do with the case being tried.

Though slow-paced, we gradually get pulled into the story. And even if the movie is far less satisfactory than the thrilling book, not as deep and lapses at times into second-rate TV movie drama, it still is suspenseful and does a good job in its probe of how the flawed judicial system functions. Ford gives a brilliant low-key performance, one that makes us feel his pain, while Dennehy, Julia, Bedelia and Winfield are excellent in supporting roles.