Following in the vein of the Paradise Lost trilogy, the documentary The Central Park Five tells a story of crime and racism in New York City as five black youths are arrested and subsequently convicted for the brutal rape of a jogger in Central Park, despite an overwhelming lack of evidence. The movie tells an important story, but the movie lacks the spark and passion expected about the subject.
Co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon, The Central Park Five diligently walks through the events leading up to the crime, the various circumstances that led to the boys' arrests, their trial and eventual release - after several years in prison.
The story revolves around what seems to often occur in these questionable cases: police intimidating the boys or taking advantage of their naivety to coerce a concession. Four of the five suspects confessed on videotape and implicated the others. Somewhat confounding, they did so in the presence of their parents, and seemingly without lawyers.
The Central Park Five is a nice-looking film that features interviews with the boys-turned-men. Burns and his fellow filmmakers do a good job of establishing how there was a rush to judgment by the police, prosecutors and media, and likely overt racism.
And yet the documentary didn't blow me away. It's hard not to compare the movie to Paradise Lost, which, while not dealing with race, focused on the very questionable convictions of three boys for a murder, despite a lack of evidence and concerning concessions. While the Paradise Lost movies are much cruder in their delivery, they approach their subject with more energy and enthusiasm than The Central Park Five, which, in its failed attempt to look impartial comes off as surprisingly plain, even bland. If there's a difference between the two.
The Central Park Five lacks interviews with the police or prosecutors who handled the case (likely because there is still a civil lawsuit pending), leaving the story to be told almost exclusively through the five men. Paradise Lost, meanwhile, features a variety of colorful characters on both side of the aisle.
The Central Park Five tells an important story that deserves to be told, but the way it is told leaves little to be desired. The film may have been better served had it been created several years in the future when the people responsible for putting the boys behind bars are more willing to talk; as is, The Central Park Five is missing something.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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