Blu-ray Review: The Night Of

By , Contributor
HBO's eight-part miniseries The Night Of captivates from its mysterious opening right through to its deliberately untidy end. Now available as a three-disc Blu-ray set, The Night Of (based on the 2008 BBC miniseries Criminal Justice) is not to missed for fans of police procedurals. And the emphasis should be squarely on "procedure," as the series meticulous charts the various stages involved in arresting and prosecuting Nasir "Naz" Khan (Riz Ahmed) on murder charges. And none of the characters really seems that engaged, going through the process with bored detachment. Except for ambulance-chasing lawyer John Stone (John Turturro), who lucks into defending Naz and who obviously cares deeply about the outcome of the case.

Naz is introduced as a bookish intellectual who tutors the more popular, athletic students at his college. When he scores an unexpected invite to a hip party, he scrambles to find a way to attend. "Borrowing" his father's taxi late at night, he quickly gets lost in midtown Manhattan. He also doesn't know how to engage the "Off Duty" light, leading pedestrians to hop in expecting a ride. He pisses people off by turning them away. When the beautiful, forlorn Andrea (Sofia Black-D'Elia) gets in, Naz can't resist driving her. It's a decision that changes his life forever. The pair get to know each other a little, but mostly Andrea remains aloof. She gives him drugs, which he takes without knowing what they even are. That night, at her apartment, they consummate what will be a very brief relationship. In the morning Naz finds Andrea's dead body.

That's the set-up and if it sounds interesting that's about all you need to know. If it sounds typical or predictable, it's not. The series is handled artfully by directors Steven Zaillian and James Marsh, with the story unfolding at just the right pace. If crime drama is your thing, this is worth your time. It's an unusual whodunit more concerned with the attitudes and perceptions of everyone involved than with the black-and-white facts. To explain further would simply spoil the surprises of a very well-told story that understands it doesn't have to explain everything.

Ahmed (soon to be seen in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) crafts a fascinating portrait in his portrayal of Naz, slowly revealing the young man's deeply suppressed rage and strong desire to be taken on his own terms. He's also very sensitive about having grown up as a Muslim in a post-9/11 America. As the trail moves forward, he adapts to life in prison remarkably well—but never to the point where he is truly self-sufficient. (A few spoilers follow.) Naz has a benefactor in prison, a former pro boxer (Michael Kenneth Wiliams). His partnership with this influential, dangerous inmate is one area of The Night Of that skirts awfully close to cliche. It might've been more interesting to see how Naz handles life in prison on his own terms.

Both Turturro and Amara Karan are superb as Naz's legal team, but Karan has the tougher time of it. As Chandra, an assistant at Alison Crowe's (Glenne Headly) firm, Karan is asked to do the unlikeliest thing in the entire series. (Again, this one's a spoiler.) She makes out with Naz in a video-monitored holding cell, compromising the entire case she and Stone have been building. Her sudden romantic/sexual interest in Naz (which is just as suddenly dropped) makes absolutely no sense in the context of the story. We're led to believe that Chandra is a go-getter who takes her role in Naz's case extremely seriously. She also fulfills another equally compromising action at Naz's request, which at least makes sense and would've been sufficient for throwing a wrench in the trial's works.

Minor gripes aside, The Night Of is extremely easy to recommend. HBO's Blu-ray edition offers predictably high quality audio/visual presentation, but it should be noted that there are absolutely no extras. This seems very strange. It would've been a natural to include material about how the series was adapted from it's BBC source. But the eight episodes unfold in the manner of a very long, very detailed movie and certainly don't require supplements to appreciate.


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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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