In this gripping, character-driven thriller, a shocking crime rocks a small Massachusetts town and one family in particular, forcing an assistant district attorney to choose between his sworn duty to uphold justice and his unconditional love for his son.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name by William Landay, Defending Jacob narrates the story of an attorney and his family, which is torn apart when his son is accused of murder. Created and written for Apple TV by Mark Bomback, the series has Captain America Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery playing lead roles, and the first three episodes of the limited series went on air on April 24.
What’s the story?
Andy Barber (Chris Evans) is a district attorney, who lives in a small town, Newton, along with his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) and son, Jacob (Jaeden Martell). One day, a 14-year-old boy, Ben Rifkin, a schoolmate of Jacob’s, is found murdered, and Andy takes over the case. However, Andy’s world comes crashing down when his son, Jacob, is accused of being the murderer. With the whole community turning against them, Laurie goes through a lot of emotional stress and anxiety, and Jacob himself goes into a shell. The rest of the story is about how Andy keeps everything together to defend his son and protect the family from slander.
Defending Jacob is Chris Evans’ first high-profile TV project in more than a decade, and his first major outing since playing the lead in Avengers: End Game and Knives Out in 2019. The good part is that he takes the role as seriously as the character demands; however, you can’t help but think about what Ben Affleck would have done in a similar role. After all, Ben Affleck has played lead roles in films like Gone Baby Gone and Gone Girl, which captured the small-town milieu in a psychological thriller’s context extremely well. The deja vu is just too strong. But to Chris Evans’ credit, he transforms himself into a loving father and a caring husband, and this trait is what elevates the drama too. But more than him, it’s Michelle Dockery as Laurie who shines the most in the first three episodes of the series. She’s a kindergarten teacher in the show, and right from the moment she realises that her son is being accused of murder, Laurie undergoes a lot of stress as she comes to terms with the developments. Michelle treads this thin line extremely well, where she’s both a caring mother and also, a fallible person who goes through a lot of self-doubts to an extent that her moral compass could almost wreck the family. Jaeden Martell is good in his role and he always keeps you guessing about what’s going through his mind.
First things first, the world of ‘Defending Jacob’ feels quite familiar, given the number of American and European TV shows and movies that have dealt with similar themes. However, where the series stands out is how it projects the failings of a seemingly perfect family. On one hand, Andy has a dark secret, which he keeps under wraps from his family all his life, and then, there’s Jacob, who doesn’t share his feelings with his parents for numerous reasons. But the most interesting aspect is how it treats Laurie, a loving mother, who begins to doubt her own son based on the actions of his past. But the moment she begins to question herself, she shows a lot of remorse and guilt that she went through bouts of self-doubt. The TV series owes a lot to the performances of its lead actors, Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, who make you want to watch what might happen next, even when the show loses grip over what it wants to say. Another aspect of the show, which is a bit of a letdown, is that it makes you wonder if it would have been better as a movie rather than as a TV series. But then, who knows how the series is going to unfold in the next few episodes as more secrets are unravelled.
Music & Other Departments:
Icelandic music composer Atli Örvarsson’s work is extremely impressive in the series and he adds a layer of mystery to the narrative, which keeps you wondering what might happen next. Cinematographer Jonathan Freeman infuses the visuals with a lot of grey and dark tones, and the visual narrative is as grim as the story itself.
Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery elevate the series with their performances even when the drama seems boring. The series takes a close look at how suspicion breaks apart friendships and relationships, and it’s explored quite well in the context of whether someone is innocent until proven guilty or not.
There are times when the narrative makes you wish Defending Jacob was adapted as a film and not a TV series. Sometimes, the proceedings seem too generic, but thankfully, the family drama and the changing relationship between Jacob’s parents makes you stick to the show.
Do I recommend it?
While it’s no match to some of the better crime-dramas on the internet right now, Defending Jacob gets better as it progresses, and Chris Evans-Michelle Dockery win you over with their strong performances. But it’s way too generic and one can only wish that there are plenty of twists coming in near future.