Starring Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, Michael Kenneth Williams, Amara Karan, Peyman Moaadi and John Turturro
Now on Digital HD, Blu-ray & DVD
by Richard Hamer
There isn’t, on the face of it, much to distinguish The Night Of from the huge raft of crime dramas that fill our TV schedules. Itself based on a BBC series, The Night Of presents the familiar pieces of the police procedural: The wide-eyed and seemingly innocent suspect, the detective close to retirement, the down-trodden lawyer – Yet what it achieves with them is an extraordinary piece of television; a well-worn formula honed to perfection through incredible casting and a tight, layered screenplay that hums with clockwork precision.
Principally an eight episode whoddunit, The Night Of focuses on the arrest, detention and trial of Nasir Khan – a Pakistani-American student – following the murder of a wealthy white woman in an affluent New York neighbourhood. There are shades of The Wire here, with Nasir’s experience a springboard to examine all sides of the legal system, through laywer John Stone (John Turturro), detective Dennis Box (Bill Camp) and powerful, dangerous prison inmate Freddy Knight (Michael Kenneth Williams) among many others.
Each performance is more brilliant than the last: John Turturro is masterful as the ambulance-chasing, eczema-ridden lawyer; unshakeable in the face of attacks against his professionalism and physical appearance, blessed with a heart of gold almost despite himself. Riz Ahmed shines as Nasir, the wide-eyed youth stripped down and remade by incarceration and violence; his journey portrayed with the deftest of touches. I could go on: every member of this large, ensemble cast excels.
But the true brilliance of The Night Of lies in how expertly it juggles these disparate elements. Despite the size of the cast, there isn’t an inch of fat here. The show definitely feels the strain of its eight-episode miniseries format – two of these running to feature length simply to pack it all in – yet, incredibly, not a second feels wasted. The pacing is rarely less than breakneck; the murder hardly original in the solving, but constantly engaging nonetheless.
Ultimately, what this story gives us is an examination of people and systems. By taking a ‘simple’ case and examining it from all sides, we are given a birds-eye view of criminal justice as a system, a huge and lumbering engine that takes in people, churns them up and – hopefully, out the other side – produces something that looks a little like justice. And, The Night Of suggests, criminal justice is a system where the law and the lawless become dark mirrors of each other, one that people can become subserviant to, lost in and – ultimately – failed by.
Where this premise lacks the scope of something like The Wire, it more than makes up for it with its sense of intimacy and urgency; a pared down vision that brings us close – uncomfortably close in the case of Turturro’s rash-covered feet – to these people and their fates.
The Night Of is a wonderful creation, a defining testament to the power of this ‘golden-age’ of television in which we live: a drama that shows us the inner workings of a world we hope to never know, exposes its flaws – its raw underbelly – yet never surrenders its basic function to entertain or enthrall. A classic, small and perfectly formed, over all too quickly.