Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Central Park Five

Not much to say about the circumstances around seeing this film or the lead-up. Maybe I shouldn't have seen three movies on a day when I really needed to finish my Christmas shopping? Eh, it got done.

I suppose it's worth mentioning that I haven't done much research into how complete/accurate the film is. While I doubt that there are any factual errors, the extremely focused nature of the narrative leaves ample space for things to be left out, and anybody who wants to learn about the case should likely supplant this with other resources.

The Central Park Five

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 22 December 2012 in Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run, 2K digital)

The Central Park Five states the reason for its existence plainly toward the end: To in some small way close the gap between how loudly its subjects' guilt was proclaimed twenty-odd years ago and the attention paid to their being declared innocent after serving seven to thirteen years in jail. It's a worthy goal, and while getting the film in front of all the people who followed the news back then is likely impossible, those that do see it will certainly absorb its recounting of events.

When a woman jogging in New York's Central Park was raped and beaten into a coma in April 1989, it made the national news and became a cause célèbre in the local press. The police connected it with other violent incidents going on in the park at around the same time, and within two days, they had confessions from five shockingly young suspects - 14-year-olds Antron McCray, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson & Yusef Salaam and 16-year-old Korey Wise. That all were black or hispanic while the victim was white inflamed the situation further, and the district attorney had little trouble getting convictions a year later. A seeming triumph for the criminal justice system that New York badly needed - except that the five were innocent, their confessions coerced in marathon sessions without parents or lawyers.

The story touches upon a number of hot-button issues, either directly or as a tangent - race relations, capital punishment, what opportunities prisoners should have, and just why proper police procedure is so important. What the filmmakers can focus on is limited by access - none of the involved police officers nor any current city official chose to participate - but in some ways, this helps put the situation in context better than having a former NYPD detective tell the camera about the pressure they were under to close the case or how he regrets the assumptions he made back then. This is the world that the Five were living in, and how it got that way or how it evolved since then is irrelevant to their story.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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