I remember when I was younger I had little interest in documentaries. Most of the time they were dry, tedious affairs that left me wanting to do anything buy continue watching them. As the years went by I grew fonder of the genre and with the advent of filmmakers like Ken Burns and Michael Moore, documentaries have become more accessible to the average film viewer. I also remember the film Hoop Dreams really changing the way I looked at documentaries. It was such a compelling look into a world I knew nothing about, which is something the best documentaries do very well. Nowadays I find I cannot get my fill of documentaries, I am fascinated by them and find them incredibly engrossing. The latest documentary to land on my doorstep is The Central Park Five, a new film directed by documentary guru Ken Burns along with his daughter Sarah and Burns frequent producing partner David McMahon.
In 1989 a woman was brutally attacked, beaten and raped in New York’s Central Park. The crime was a shock to the city and the focus on urban crime in the metropolis was headline news. Five black and Latino teenagers from Harlem were arrested and convicted for the crime after multiple taped confessions. But years later after most of the men had served their sentence, another man confessed to the crime and DNA proved his guilt. The horrific miscarriage of justice is examined fully as the filmmakers attempt to determine the course of events that led to the conviction of five innocent teenagers.
The Central Park Five does one thing in particular really well. It enraged the viewer. As the story unfolds you see a prime example of condemnation by the media and the justice systems desire to cater to the desires of the public instead of rationally carrying out actual justice. When you see the chain of events that led to such a travesty it is mind boggling. The confessions were taken after excruciating interrogation and promises of freedom. The teenagers and their parents were overwhelmed by an onslaught of overzealous law enforcement that wanted to get results at any cost. Aside from the forced confessions, there was no evidence at all that the boys had done it. In fact, there was a fair bit of evidence indicating they couldn’t have done it, but it was all ignored to satiate the public’s desire for justice. And in doing so they achieved the exact opposite. This is a fascinating and heartbreaking film that anyone interested in the power of the media and the inadequacies of the justice system should seek out.
The Blu-ray from eOne is a very nice presentation. Much of the archival footage is rough but that is to be expected. Overall though, the film has a nice clean look and the transfer is very nice with crisp current interview footage. This is a powerful film that teaches many lessons and in my opinion, along with the documentaries about The West Memphis Three and films like The Thin Blue Line, should be shown in schools to teach our children not to fall into these traps. The Central Park Five is yet another brilliant film to add to Ken Burns’ filmography.
Available April 23, 2013 on Blu-ray and DVD.