Defending Jacob, directed by Morten Tyldum, is an American crime/drama series set in the quaint town of Newton, Massachusetts. Andy Barber (played by Chris Evans) is an assistant district attorney, who has been assigned oversee the unexplained murder of a teenage boy. His entire world is shook when he discovers that his son, Jacob Barber (played by Jaeden Martell), is charged with the murder. Together with his wife (played by Michelle Dockery), the Barber family must fight an uphill battle in the courts to prove their son’s innocence and determine the true culprit of the crime.
This series can be best described as an onion; it contains many layers of storytelling that are slowly peeled off and revealed to us episode by episode. There was a tremendous amount of richness and originality to the plot (even though it was based off of a NY times bestseller). There were eight episodes in total, each structured to showcase events unfolding on a day to day basis. There were no awkward time gaps, where it seemed that we as the viewers were “cut out of the action”. Instead, the show put me right beside the Barber family; reacting in real-time to the twists and turns that the plot threw at us.
Speaking of plot twists, there were quite a few; most of them revealed to us near the finale of the show. They were all pretty shocking and unexpected; Tyldum really pulled the rug under us. Another unique aspect of Tyldums’ directorial style was his elegant and “clean” cinematography. The color scheme applied was very muted and non-overpowering, which gave the show a surreal feeling. However in key moments, Tyldum dynamically shifted his editorial and cinematographic style, through intensifying the score, cleverly utilizing flashbacks and echoes and also emphasizing the color red in his shots to signify gore and violence.
Two other positives of this show are its performances and educational insights. With regards to performances, it was a breath of fresh air to see Chris Evans take up a dramatic role. It is perhaps unfortunate that many people will only see Evans as Captain America, but the way he embodied the character of Andy Barber, an emotionally tolled and distraught father, made me forget that he used to play a Marvel superhero. That’s how good he was. Evans’ chemistry with Jaeden Martell & Michelle Dockery was also very profound. The Barber family actually seemed like a run of the mill middle class American household. With regards to educational insights, it should be noted that much of Defending Jacob is set in a courtroom. As such, the plot utilizes a fair amount of legal jargon to add to its realism. This never got too confusing, as the characters explained this jargon to us in a manner that actually progressed the plot. This show provides great insight into the American legal system and the constitutional rights that you are afforded as a resident of the United States.
The only nitpick I have about this show is that it fails to answer two key questions. I cannot say what these questions are as they will spoil its plot twists; but I didn’t really like the fact that the show expected me to decide on answers to those questions. In my opinion, the finale of the show left us with too much space for interpretation. It is also worth noting that the ending did not match that of the book (which it is based on). I only read the synopsis of the book, but I much preferred its ending to the one we were presented in the show.
In summary, Defending Jacob is an excellent mini-series. In some sense, it is an homage to many classic American crime shows, but makes a name for itself through its interesting plot, elegant cinematography, compelling performances, and educational insights. I was a bit disappointed that the finale of the show left too much room for interpretation, and deviated from the (superior) ending of the book. Yet, this series is one that will wholeheartedly recommend to all my readers.