Let me start with this; If you haven’t seen HBO’s The Night Of as of yet, stop everything, queue it up and watch it now. Just make sure to clear your calendar for the next 8 hours and 45 minutes (excluding bathroom and snack breaks), because you won’t want to pause.
Created by Richard Price (The Wire, Clockers) and Steven Zaillian (The Irishman, Schindler’s List and so, so much more), the eight-episode miniseries is packed with phenomenal performances from Riz Ahmed and John Turturro, brilliant editing, and dark and edgy cinematography. The Night Of is quite possibly one of the greatest crime thrillers you’ll ever see.
The story opens with Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan stealing his father’s cab to go to a party in downtown Manhattan. While driving around East Village, he gets lost and Andrea Cornish, a beautiful young woman jumps into the cab and asks to be taken to “the beach”. At this point, you’re hoping Naz will politely tell Andrea the cab is out of service and either a) go home, or b) seriously, go home. Instead, Naz ditches the party and the two navigate an evening of “uh, that is not a good idea, guys” type decisions. We wake up with Naz in Andrea’s Upper West Side house, to find Andrea murdered in cold blood and Naz in a very sticky situation. An overwhelming amount of circumstantial evidence points to Naz as the culprit but he maintains his innocence throughout. This is reminiscent of many real-life scenarios, like the case against Adnan Syed (the man convicted of the murder of Hae Min Lee in 2000 and the subject of the first season of Serial). Naz is the primary, and only, suspect in this murder mystery and what follows is a very real and sobering representation of the U.S. criminal justice system.
Riz Ahmed does an incredible job in showcasing the heart-breaking transformation from squeaky clean, family oriented college student living in Queens, to someone completely different; a product of Riker’s Island and a long-drawn out investigation and criminal trial. John Turturro flawlessly portrays John Stone, the eczema-ridden defense attorney who, once mocked by his peers, now steps up to do the right thing and defend Naz, who is clearly innocent. And we can’t overlook Amara Karan, who plays Chandra Kapoor, a modern day (albeit flawed) superhero dressed as a newbie attorney. She repeatedly proves herself in the courtroom up until the point at which a colossal mistake potentially costs her her career. She represents every passionate, young law school graduate, looking to use her very expensive degree to make a real and positive difference in the world, and after eight episodes, we’re left with a lawyer whose passion and sense of social justice will undoubtedly take a backseat.
The Night Of is moving because it offers a glimpse into how a strict interpretation of the law and a truly impartial jury can ultimately protect the people it is there to serve – in this case, a 23-year-old Muslim man in a post 9/11 America, on trial for a grizzly crime he did not commit, with the odds stacked against him. Much like season 1 of Serial, we follow along every minute of The Night Of in horror, hoping the law is not only on Naz’s side, but on ours too. And finally, against all odds, the unlikely duo of a defense team successfully clouds the prosecution’s case with enough doubt that the jury cannot lawfully, and in good conscience, convict Naz.
That said, even though Naz walks out a free man, no one is completely unscathed. Naz’s transformation leaves him isolated from his family and friends; his family has fallen into an even greater financial pit; the Muslim community is vilified and disgraced; Ms. Kapoor is back to looking for work and John Stone, well, he’s now arguably the only one better off (now in the company of a very cute rescue cat) but he sums it up perfectly in his closing argument, “The night Naz was arrested, he lost a lot… But what he didn’t lose, and what none of us can lose, were his constitutional rights to an attorney, to a fair and impartial trial by … his peers, and to the presumption of his innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.”
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in the following past FOLCS events:
Clockers: Screening and Conversation featuring writers, Richard Price and Rich Cohen.
The Truce: Screening and Conversation featuring writer, Elie Wiesel, and actor, John Turturro.
…And Justice for All: Screening and Conversation featuring actor, Jeffrey Tambor, and author, Neal Gabler.