How far would you go to protect your child? and when does doubt begin to cloud the once perfect image you had of your son or daughter? These questions are of course nothing new in the crowded marketplace of crime drama. With a number of recent British shows having covered the same subject matter, from A Mothers Son to Born to Kill. However, Defending Jacob manages to transcend the familiarity of its story by dovetailing crime drama with a powerful and unrelenting ensemble character piece. Exuding both confidence and complexity as we witness a family face the ultimate challenge. One that places family ties of love, trust and security under the microscope.
Based on the novel by William Landay, Defending Jacob offers something rare in American televison; a homage to the taut and dark crime drama’s of Nordic TV. Its compact eight episode run opting for a slow burn narrative. Allowing time for character development, while not rushing headlong into action or simple solutions. As the small town of Newton, Massachusetts is rocked by the grim discovery of a local teenagers body. The boys final horrific moments wrapped up in a sea of school, community and family secrets.
Step in family man, District Attorney and all round nice guy Andy Barber (Chris Evans). His knowledge of both the town and its people seen as strength in ensuring swift justice for a family grieving the violent loss of their son. However, as Andy’s son Jacob (Jaeden Martell) becomes the prime suspect in the case, leading to his removal from the investigation. The Barber family find the tranquility of their life cloaked in darkness. Both Andy and his wife Laurie (Michelle Dockery) forced to explore their deepest fears, as they strive to protect the son they have comforted, cared for and loved unconditionally.
However, within every marriage untold secrets lay beneath the veneer of happiness. While within every teenager a hidden new life of adult experiences bubbles away unseen by parents. Ultimately leading to one defining question; can family life ever recover from either a verdict of guilt or the escape or innocence?
From the outset Defending Jacob shines in its ability to pull the audience in, with each episode leaving you wanting more. As the personal and social waves of a murder build into a tsunami of confusion and doubt. However, it is within the complexity of its character studies that this drama truly stands out from the crowd. With Martell, Evans and Dockery providing performances that keep your eyes glued to the screen. As we witness the social, personal and community security of family life slowly unravel, in a sea of despair and love. Ultimately providing us with an outstanding and complex journey into belief and doubt, as one family face the demons of uncertainty and ostracism of perceived guilt.
Director: Morten Tyldum