One Dinner, Many Doubts: How ‘Presumed Innocent’ Edited That Tense Dinner Scene in Episode 3 for Maximum Impact

In Episode 3 of “Presumed Innocent” (“The Discovery”), showrunner David E. Kelley turns the heat on Jake Gyllenhaal’s Rusty Sabitch, Chicago’s slick chief deputy prosecutor suspected of brutally murdering his pregnant mistress and colleague, Carolyn (Renate Reinsve). It kicks off with Rusty receiving the shocking text —”You were there, I saw you” — which places him at the scene of the crime, denies him an alibi, and further points to his guilt.

For editor Philip Neel (Episodes 3 and 6), this was a great entry point for cutting Rusty’s obsession with Carolyn and how it spiraled out of control in a twisted confluence of sex, politics, power, and love. “Nobody writes better courtroom drama than David Kelley,” Neel told IndieWire. “And he made a lot of changes. He was able to expand the dimensions of the mystery and flesh out the characters more [beyond Scott Turow’s 1987 novel and the 1990 movie starring Harrison Ford]. I think that’s a product of the difference between a two-hour movie and an eight-episode series.”

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The most significant change in the eight-episode series is Jake Gyllenhaal’s intense portrayal of Rusty (as opposed to Ford’s stoic interpretation), which amplifies everything around him at the prosecutor’s office and at home with his family. Most intriguing are the flashbacks with Carolyn, which provide a mind-bending glimpse into Rusty’s volatile and obsessive behavior.

Speaking of mind-bending, after Rusty starts processing the text message, we cut to a vision of him murdering Carolyn with a poker, and his best friend and attorney, Raymond (Bill Camp) — the former DA, in fact — waking up from a nightmare. This subconscious sense of doubt places an extra emotional burden on him. First, he was unaware of Rusty’s affair with Carolyn, and now it turns out that he visited her the night of the murder.

“This vision of Carolyn being attacked by the poker reveals a strange side of Rusty,” Neel said. “And, for a second, we don’t know what it is. We went through a lot of incarnations of how to put that together, and it seemed to work out, where it wasn’t too long, but it’s violent, it’s sudden, and he kills her. We also played with the sound of the alarm over it, pulling us out of this bad dream.”

'Presumed Innocent' Apple TV+
‘Presumed Innocent’Apple TV+

After Rusty discovers that the text message was sent by Carolyn’s teenage son, Michael (Tate Birchmore), who took photos and videos of him, he realizes that the case against him led by Tommy Molto (Peter Sarsgaard), his successor and nemesis, will be strong.

This leads to an uncomfortable family dinner that comes off as a cross-examination. First, Rusty is confronted by daughter Jaden (Chase Infiniti) about the evidence against him, which he methodically lays out. Then, he’s asked by son Kyle (Kingston Rumi) if he’s going to take a plea deal, which unnerves him. All the while, wife Barbara (Ruth Negga) holds the family together and believes in Rusty’s innocence, despite his betrayal.

“It’s a powerful family moment with everything going on,” said Neel. “You can see that Jaden’s a little uncomfortable, and I’m trying to show that at the beginning, and then you see why when she loads up and asks, ‘What exactly are you accused of?’ Then it’s important to just get that shot of Rusty, where he kind of is making up his mind, he better talk to them.

“And when he sits and starts to talk about it, of course, I’ve got all their reactions,” he continued. “And I’ve got the shot of him with several different takes made, and this one take, in particular, did a slow camera push in. I thought it was more powerful to just stay on him and have him just spill everything that’s going on with the court case, and then to show their reaction, as opposed to cutting away during the speech. Sometimes I think it’s stronger to see where they’ve arrived with their reaction instead of seeing the steps that got them there.”

Rusty walks away from the dining room and into the bathroom and has a panic attack. He splashes water on his face and flashes back to a heated exchange with Catherine on the night of the murder. “It’s a moment where you can understand why he just needs to get away, and you can see the buildup of things that are going on,” Neel added. “The flashbacks you can interpret however you want. This is his sensing how guilty he looks to his family.”

“Presumed Innocent” streams weekly with new episodes on Apple TV+ through July 24.

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