Blu-ray Review: The Night Of
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Every now and then HBO release a limited mini-series. Their latest entry, The Night Of, is a terrific police procedural/prison drama that tackles Nasir ‘Naz’ Khan’s (Riz Ahmed) experiences after waking up with a girl who has been gruesomely murdered, while not having any recollection of what actually happened.
HBO has in recent years become a staple of quality and a pinnacle of excellent late night television. In the late 90s, HBO gave us great TV such as The Sopranos and The Wire, and now, audiences get to witness delights such as Game of Thrones and Westworld, both of which have been consistent in terms of quality and reception.
The Night Of is based on the British police series Criminal Justice and follows heavily in the footsteps of the original’s premise. Set in New York City, Naz’s story begins when an interesting and beautiful woman called Andrea (Sofia Black D’Elia) enters his cab, which he stole from his father to head to a party.
This small detail is mostly forgotten when Naz begins to develop a deepening infatuation with her and begins his drug and sex fuelled adventure, which sadly ends in her murder. Shrouded in evidence, covered in blood and a scared face that could easily be mistaken for guilt, Naz is propelled through the American judicial system as the truth lies in waiting.
There are a lot of tonal changes throughout the series. The first episode almost stands as its own piece, chronicling the night up until the arrest. Following an incredibly intense chain of events, all of which are riddled with an underlying aura of dread and pessimism. The later episodes follow a complex police investigation, intelligently following the persecutors along with Naz and his legal team, which makes for interesting developments and pacing.
Throughout the entirety of the narrative, the audience are always unsure of who actually murdered Andrea, feeding the audience clues one minute and drawing attention to something completely different the next.
Some of the most powerful and somehow lighthearted scenes come from acting maverick John Turturro, who plays John Stone - a lawyer who takes on the case and attempts to unravel what happened that night. Stone is an eczema sufferer who struggles throughout the episodes to find a cure and within this storyline, there is something very human and personal - who knew that there are support groups for people with the dermatological condition? Stone has some of the most intimate and personal storylines, but is also quite crucial to the inhabited plot alongside his many peculiar and entertaining idiosyncrasies.
Accompanying Ahmed and Turturro is an amazing supporting cast. Dennis Box (Bill Camp) leads the police side of the investigation, with an often indistinguishable demeanour. Box implements an interrogation style that features manipulation through trying to be nice and comforting. When interviewing Naz a few hours after the murder, Box sneakily attempts to pry useful information out of a clearly broken up and terrified young man. Also fighting for Naz is Chandra (Amara Karan), a sweet but passionate lawyer who has an additional layer of emotional attachment sharing the same Pakistani ethnicity as Naz.
Within the police investigation, there is an interesting depiction of the Pakistani community in New York and how the accusation of murder among them is amplified considerably in the media - often affecting Nasir’s family. Some of the saddest moments involve his parents, played amazingly by Peyman Moaadi and Poorna Jagannathan, who struggle with the emotional weight of having a child accused of murder and copious legal fees
The strongest elements derive from the show's ability to pick apart the legal system, from the complex legalities through to the minor manipulation and corruption that sometimes wins an argument. Explored elements include how witnesses are used and often told how to portray their arguments in a way that, in most cases, benefits the persecutors.
There is such a vast transformation and development executed in The Night Of too. There are only eight episodes but each one manages to tell a lot of story. One of the most interesting and complicated storylines is the one that follows Naz, often feeling like a sub-plot, due to the heavier plot events happening around him. Through the murder accusations and being held in prison awaiting trial, Naz embarks on a self-actualising journey, which develops into something that is totally unpredictable and quite incredible.
Despite some moments that feel slightly uninteresting and a loss of logic during the final courtroom scenes, the overall series is a definite achievement. The cinematography is also beautiful, with most shots enhanced by grey and gloomy tones, accompanied by an innovative style of framing and composition.
There would certainly be room for a second season; perhaps taking the series in an anthology direction (like True Detective) would work, but if not then the first season definitely accomplishes a lot that doesn’t need to be enriched by a subsequent season.
The Night Of is some of the most under appreciated television this year and one of the best of the decade.
The Night Of is available to buy on DVD and Blu-ray now.