Wel­come to the maw of a ter­ri­fy­ingly un­just sys­tem of jus­tice

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODTELLY -

ALYSSA ROSEN­BERG

THE worst gap be­tween rig­or­ous style and ridicu­lous sub­stance for­tu­nately comes early in The Night Of, which is why I can ar­gue that you should push through it to what comes af­ter.

In HBO’s new minis­eries, Naz (a tremen­dous Riz Ahmed), finds him­self in trou­ble when a young woman whose name we will learn is An­drea (Sofia Black-D’Elia) gets into his fa­ther’s taxi, which Naz has taken with­out per­mis­sion in­tend­ing to drive to a party thrown by the bas­ket­ball team for which Naz works as a tu­tor.

She’s pretty, and Naz is lost, so he doesn’t kick her out of the ve­hi­cle. Naz takes a pill, shots of tequila and snorts co­caine with her. They have sex and when Naz wakes up in the kitchen and goes up­stairs to say good­bye, An­drea’s been stabbed.

There’s a great mo­ment when Naz turns on her bed­side lamp, sees the hor­rific scene and quickly pulls the chain again to shut out the gore.

It can’t make up for a mildly pre­pos­ter­ous setup for a se­ries that wants to be re­al­is­tic, or that An­drea’s made out to be just an­other reck­less girl whose death be­comes a ve­hi­cle for some­one else’s story.

But once Naz leaves An­drea’s flat in a panic, car­ry­ing a knife, The Night Of im­proves im­me­di­ately, as we see ev­ery minute co­in­ci­dence that leads the po­lice to be­lieve that he is An­drea’s mur­derer.

And once that process be­gins, we get to the best thing about The Night Of, the se­ries’ force­ful, per­sis­tent ar­gu­ment that even the small­est con­tact with the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem can be pro­foundly de­hu­man­is­ing.

When Naz is first stopped by the cops for miss­ing a turn sig­nal, the of­fi­cer, an African Amer­i­can woman, pa­tro­n­ises him. At the sta­tion, Naz is greeted by un­fa­mil­iar slang as he’s searched and de­nied his in­haler dur­ing ques­tion­ing. He’s pushed and slapped as he’s un­dress­ing. In the cells, one in­mate be­comes vi­o­lently ill, and an­other beats the sick man for moan­ing.

In Rik­ers Is­land, Naz tries to de­cide whether to ac­cept pro­tec­tion from Fred­die ( Michael Ken­neth Wil­liams); when he dithers, his bed is set on fire.

That the de­tec­tive in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case, Den­nis Box (Bill Camp) is a me­thod­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor who is will­ing to ex­tend small kind­nesses to Naz and his par­ents, or that the pros­e­cu­tor (Jean­nie Berlin) is con­sci­en­tious and of­fers Naz a plea deal doesn’t mat­ter. The crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem can’t help but de­form Naz; that’s what it does.

And for all the drab ug­li­ness of the sys­tem that is chew­ing up Naz and his fam­ily, the cri­tique of the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem that emerges is nec­es­sar­ily lim­ited by the fact that we’re sup­posed to be­lieve that Naz is in­no­cent.

The Night Of is grander in tone, and more fully stocked with recog­nis­able ac­tors than Orange Is The New Black was when Net­flix’s prison se­ries de­buted in 2013. But Orange Is The New Black is still the more au­da­cious dis­cus­sion of crime and pun­ish­ment in the US. – Washington Post

Riz Ahmed

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