The Hidden Angle | 'Defending Jacob' misses huge opportunity in portraying moral conflicts through Chris Evans
'Defending Jacob' is based on a novel that brings out the essence of moral conflict in parents when they learn what their son is capable of, but the show has so far not matched the novel
'Defending Jacob', the Apple TV+ show starring Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery, and Jaeden Martell as Andy Barber, Laurie, and their son Jacob is based on a novel by William Landay. The novel captures the heart of parents who learn during the course of events that their son is not the pure-hearted, innocent boy that they had assumed he was. A happy family breaks apart after suspicions arise that their son Jacob could have killed a classmate of his -- Ben Rifkin -- who used to bully Jacob by calling him names among other disgraceful things.
It begins with the parents having the undying belief that their son is incapable of something as horrendous as murder. In the course of investigating the murder of Ben, both Laurie and Andy realize that they do not really know their son as much as they assumed they did. There are hobbies, interests, and even ideas that Jacob believes in that neither Andy nor Laurie are aware of. The fact that Jacob is incapable of feeling any remorse for the death of a fellow human being, for instance, makes Andy and Laurie just a tad bit uncomfortable, but not enough to doubt their son.
While other students who also hated Ben post messages of condolences, Jacob doesn't believe in it because all of this is fake. On the surface, it might seem insensitive that he would presume what others are feeling, but to be honest, it is not every day that victims of bullying would feel sad if something unfortunate were to befall the bullies. So, they excuse his logic. However, they learn about Jacob carrying a knife to school secretly, a knife that prosecution supposes could very well have been the murder weapon. This creates a few chinks in their armor that are the belief that they have in their son. Cracks in this armor that protect Jacob from everything appear much later when Andy and Laurie learn about Jacob's interest in violent porn.
Initially, just Andy hears about it from Jacob's friend Derek. He chalks it up to Jacob being a young inquisitive boy. However, when Derek reveals the story that Jacob posted in a cutter porn site during Jacob's trial, Laurie finally realizes that she doesn't trust her son. She tells Andy that after hearing what Jacob had written about Ben's death, there is no way she can continue to trust her son. Sure, she would love him despite his flaws but to believe him or to defend him despite knowing that there is a chance that he could've committed a crime, that puts her in a morally tough spot.
To defend their son against all odds or to give up his defense and let him learn a lesson due for his actions? Laurie and Andy have a tough situation ahead of them and this is a moral conflict that they have to face together. However, after walking on eggshells over what is truth and what isn't, this moment should have weighed down with tension, confusion, regret, disappointment, and beyond everything -- heartbreak. However, all that we see in the conversation between Laurie and Andy as they discuss their son possibly being a murderer is annoyance.
There is no nuance to this conversation. Not only is it missing in this scene but in the show's entirety as scenes that should have been portrayed with a lot more depth comes across shallow. Jacob's sharp wits that were portrayed sharply in the novel is beyond dull in the show. Most of the time, Jaeden Martell as Jacob is seen facing everything with a singular expression -- lost. Without the tension that is required to reflect the discord, the show is not as hard-hitting as it could have been.
‘The Hidden Angle’ is a weekly column examining narratives, frames and sounds that add value to movies and shows but are not part of conversations surrounding their success or failure. The column will be published Fridays.