Defending Jacob Review

Defending Jacob
Assistant DA Andy Barber (Chris Evans) is assigned to a murder investigation, and discovers that the victim is a classmate of his son Jacob (Jaeden Martell). When Jacob becomes the chief suspect in the crime investigation, the lives of Andy and his 
wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) are thrown into chaos.

by Helen O'Hara |
Published on

Apple TV’s strategy of hiring very big names and placing them in proven genre fare continues, after The Morning Show and Spielberg’s Amazing Stories, with this sombre, almost Scandi, crime drama starring Chris Evans. Written by Outlaw King’s Mark Bomback and directed by HeadhuntersMorten Tyldum, it’s not a cheery or uplifting tale, but thanks to a slow build it feels frighteningly realistic and almost unbearably tense as it turns the screws on its central family.

Defending Jacob

Evans is Andy Barber, a prosecutor and rising star in his well-heeled community, who is naturally assigned to the high-profile case of a 14-year-old murder victim after a body is found in the woods. Andy is disturbed but not deterred to learn that the victim, Ben, was a classmate of his son Jacob (It’s Jaeden Martell), but he’s astounded when some in the school accuse Jacob of the murder. Soon he and wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) become town pariahs alongside their son when he is arrested, and Andy refocuses all his legal know-how into proving his son’s innocence.

The sheer intimacy of this — we almost never leave the family — makes it an uneasy watch, because you can’t help but get caught up in their predicament.

The vision of a family locked down in their own house and shunned by their neighbours will seem far more timely than showrunner Bomback could have guessed when this went into production, but this small group are also under siege by the media and rejected by everyone who should be Skyping with them. Worse are the cracks that appear in their picture-perfect façade. It turns out that Andy has hidden secrets about his past from Laurie and Jacob, and that Jacob has been hiding activities from both parents. The big question is whether this is a clearing-your-name situation, where dogged investigation might save the wrongly accused party, or more of a We Need To Talk About Kevin, where Jacob really has done something dreadful. Martell walks a line between creepiness and normal teenage sullenness that leaves it open, so the drama’s more in how others react to him.

Dockery gives a fine, nervy performance as Laurie begins to seriously question both her son’s innocence and her husband’s insistence that everything will come right in the end. But the focus is Evans, as a guy determined to almost bend reality to his will in order to get back to the perfect life he had before. He’s smart and capable and knows when to recruit outside help to clear Jacob’s name — but there’s a lurking sense that he may be reliant on a giant blind spot where his family are concerned. He may, in fact, be forcing himself and his family to conform to a blithely successful stereotype they no longer fit, testing his own sanity in the process as the gap between reality and his hard-won normality gapes wider and wider.

The sheer intimacy of this — we almost never leave the family — makes it an uneasy watch, because you can’t help but get caught up in their predicament. They may be more privileged and far more beautiful than the rest of us, yet the nightmare of dangerous secrets coming to life could threaten any family. Still, while the washed-out blue and grey cinematography recalls Gone Girl and the theme is faintly reminiscent of House Of Cards, this doesn’t have quite that bite or those twists. It’s more of a character piece, a story about three lives in ruins, and how little we know even those closest to us.

It’s almost relentlessly downbeat and perhaps undercooks the mystery angle, but as a portrait of a family fracturing under immense pressure, it’s a heartbreaker.
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