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What Happened on ‘The Night Of’?

Acclaimed HBO miniseries out on DVD and Blu-ray

Oct. 18, 2016
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The wrong man is accused of a crime he didn’t commit and is hurled into the machinery of the justice system. The evidence against him mounts. It’s a classic theme given contemporary urgency in the 2016 HBO series “The Night Of,” released this week on Blu-ray and DVD.

As Hollywood shrivels, preoccupied with superhero sequels and zombies, flatulent comedies and hollow melodramas, television has risen as a forum for meaningful storytelling, fully alive characters and inventive moviemaking. “The Night Of” is similar in caliber to “Breaking Bad” and “Fargo,” albeit maintaining a more serious tone than either. It concerns a young Pakistani-American, Naz Khan (Riz Ahmed), a math major living in Queens with his protective parents. Borrowing his father’s taxi, he sneaks off to a party in Manhattan, gets lost and winds up with a mysterious and at first unwanted passenger, an attractive young woman who occupies the backseat of the cab and demands to be taken to “the beach… a river would be fine.”

He can’t take his eyes off the rear view mirror as he drives through the neon-tinged darkness. Eventually they arrive at her home, an elegant brownstone in a good neighborhood decorated in full bohemian style with candles, a skull and ironic taxidermy on the wall. The long foreplay that follows involves things Naz had seldom if ever experienced. She entices him with glass after glass of alcohol, a whiff of cocaine from her hand and dangerous erotic knife play. When he awakens hours later, he finds her dead, brutally slashed with that same knife. He runs away, only to fall into police hands for a traffic violation. Suspense rises as calls come in on the squad car radio about a break-in at a nearby brownstone. Soon enough the police find the body.

Ahmed heads an excellent cast as the frightened boy who makes just about every mistake possible. As a Pakistani Muslim, he is subjected to ethnic-religious slurs and misunderstandings. John Turturro co-stars as John Stone, an accident-chasing attorney who takes Ahmed’s case. A cynic who once must have been a crusader for justice, he tells Naz: “I don’t want to be stuck with the truth … I need to be flexible.” Searching for the truth is Detective Sergeant Box (Bill Camp), a well-read opera-loving detective who will remind British television lovers of a better-tempered Inspector Morse. Box thinks he has his man yet isn’t entirely certain. 

Based on the BBC series “Criminal Justice,” “The Night Of” was created by Steve Zaillian, the screenwriter for Schindler’s List, and Richard Price, the man behind “The Wire.” Zaillian directs, telling the story with an efficiency and with visual composition lacking in most contemporary Hollywood and indie movies.

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