Chris Evans tries to distance himself from Captain America in this sobering and diverting crime mystery which is a little like Apple's answer to Netflix's Sinner.
Slowly but surely building up its catalogue of comparatively premium fare, Apple TV+ may not have the quantity of streaming heavyweight Netflix, but it's attempting to just about cling on to a better level of consistent quality. It got off to a great start with the likes of For All Mankind and See - both of which it has since made available free during the current pandemic - as well as the excellent socio-political drama The Morning Show - attracting the likes of Steve Carell, Jason Momoa, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and making the most out of them too. In their subsequent efforts, they appear to have slipped into a cycle of producing and promoting good shows. Often not quite great, but still consistently good and, by and large, pretty different too, even securing heavyweight contributors like Steven Spielberg (Amazing Stories) and M. Night Shyamalan (Servant).
The latest addition to its slowly burgeoning roster of big names is Captain America himself, Chris Evans, who headlines this drama created, developed and entirely written by Mark Bomback (who has worked on the scripts for a whole bunch of remakes, reboots and sequels, including Die Hard 4.0, The Wolverine, Logan, Total Recall and the latest Planet of the Apes Trilogy). It's a solid, slick affair, garnering some strong performances from Evans and a decent supporting cast, and even though Apple feels like it may be at risk of slipping into a bit of a rut when it comes to the idea of quality, crafting perfectly engineered but somehow slightly soulless endeavours, this one just about edges its head above the crowd.
Apple feels like it may be at risk of slowly slipping into a bit of a rut when it comes to the idea of quality, crafting perfectly engineered but somehow slightly soulless endeavours
The Barber family appear happy and content until one day a boy at their teenage son's school is murderered in mysterious circumstances. Adam Barber is the local Assistant District Attorney, insisting on taking the case and heading up the investigation despite warnings that he's tangentially connected through the fact that his son is at the same school. When evidence comes to light that suggests his son may have been at the crime scene, however, everything changes, with the family pulling together whilst on the brink of being torn apart as everybody around them begins to believe that their son must have committed the crime.
In many ways this feels like Apple's answer to Netflix's The Sinner (or, much more loosely, Mindhunter), initially coming across as fairly standard fair within the genre, evoking a trademark 90s John Grisham feel to its legal-tinged drama, and largely eschewing anything too distinctive of provocative in terms of subject matter in favour of the familiar and, by and large, the slick, but then suckering you in with the slow burn and teased revelations to a darker and more compelling core.
It's a very competently put-together production, with a narrative that meticulously plots the inevitable implosion of this family (notwithstanding the unnecessary, and now cliched, Cold Open) and characters who eventually get some depth beyond their perfected exterior shells - dipping its toes in more complex character studies of trauma and abuse which shows like The Sinner, most obviously, do more confidently, but which also took other shows that little bit longer to hit their stride with.
Evans himself doesn't - at least initially - tread too far out of the scope of his Captain America wheelhouse. Even if you get the feeling that good old American Steve Rogers may not have made so many missteps in his search for the truth, by the same token Evans' Adam Barber struggles to escape the shadow of that previous character, but eventually embraces the different role and makes it far more than just another Grisham-esque underdog lawyer 'type'.
Eminently engaging, running with that whole 'what would you do?' theme throughout
Downton Abbey's Michelle Dockery and American Gods standout Pablo Schreiber are excellent despite their lesser screentime, whilst Stephen King's It child star Jaeden Martell has just the right balance of creepiness and fear to evoke conflicting emotions and make you feel equal parts doubtful and sympathetic towards his plight. Get Out's Betty Gabriel is compellingly earnest as one of the lead detectives, and the ever-reliable J.K. Simmons makes a later appearance, with a fairly hefty emotional arc tied in, clearly brought on to lend weight to a pivotal role.
Defending Jacob is a very well-oiled production and the result is an engaging piece which comfortably beats the current average for mid-range Apple fare, and is certainly a cut above the average standard of Netflix fare. It may not be utterly compelling, but it hooks you pretty thoroughly, and remains never less than eminently engaging, running with that whole 'what would you do?' theme throughout, which will particularly hit home for parents watching the tragedy unfold, and getting a lot of mileage out of a mystery which is almost impossible to predict the outcome of.
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