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Review: Defending Jacob

Written by TV, TV Reviews

The newest release from Apple TV is an adaptation of William Landay’s novel, Defending Jacob, centred on a young boy – you guessed it – called Jacob. Charged with murder at 14 years old, his family do all they can to protect him. But is it enough?

If you’re easily pleased, like me, you probably don’t need to know a lot more than Chris Evans/Captain America is in this mini-series, sporting a wonderful beard and a lot more Knives Out-esque sweaters. He’s also (obviously) very very good as Andy Barber, the father of Jacob (Jaeden Martell) and husband of Laurie Barber (Michelle Dockery). Evans very much takes the lead performance in the first half of the series, with continuous flash-forwards in-between main plot points to another hearing where only he is present. Until the very last episode though, we won’t know what those are about.

Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery in Defending Jacob
Credit: Apple TV, IMDb

Dockery shines in the second half of the season, when this tension ramps up and the trial against Jacob begins. Joanna (Cherry Jones), their lawyer, reminds them to show no emotion in front of the media. Smile, and they’ll think you’re not taking it seriously. Cry, and they’ll say you’re faking it for attention. Whilst Jacob has an attitude of I-can’t-quite-believe-this-is-happening, Laurie struggles between being a supportive mother for their family, and the feeling that she’s already lost her son to the law. Dockery can’t (and doesn’t) show any of this in the crowded scenes to the courtroom, managing only to look slightly fragile, bordering on a breakdown but never letting herself get there.

when the plot really starts getting serious, I think they gained more confidence and made their own thing of the story

For the book nerds amongst us (also me) – I think this has done Landay’s story justice (pun intended). I really loved the book, it’s pretty easy to follow and the TV adaptation has kept the structure on the intermittent flash-forward pieces of transcript in-between plot lines. However it does take a few episodes to find its feet. Multiple lines of dialogue are pulled straight from the book, which doesn’t exactly feel natural, but when the plot really starts getting serious, I think they gained more confidence and made their own thing of the story.

And for those who want a fast-paced crime drama with blue and red flashing lights? This might not be for you. It’s pretty slow, there’s no intense car chases or fights outside the court room (okay, there’s one). If anything, it’s more of look into how the criminal justice system works in America, especially when dealing with someone accused of such as serious crime at a young age – whose own father is a DA. And should genes be brought into the courtroom? Can you blame certain behaviours on a persons genetics? I don’t want to spoil it, but just wait until you see who plays Andy’s father…

the twists and turns, even if you’ve already read the book, are great to watch play out

Let’s be honest, there are happier things you could be watching right now. Defending Jacob is quite slow to start, and when it builds pace it does sometimes struggle to maintain it. But the twists and turns, even if you’ve already read the book, are great to watch play out. There’s the slight possibility for a second season here, but as much as I enjoyed this, I’d rather Apple let it be. It’s a good mini-series, and I don’t want that to be diminished by another season that painfully draws out points from Landay’s same story.

I’m honestly only annoyed that they didn’t make use of the white sweater from Knives Out.

Credit: Apple TV, YouTube

Last modified: 29th May 2020

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