Connect with us

Disc Reviews

The Central Park Five | Blu-ray Review

The Central Park Five Ken Burns Sarah Burns David McMahonAfter years of acclaimed documentary mini-series, Ken Burns returns to the feature film with his daughter Sarah Burns and fellow colleague David McMahon, who produced a number of Burns’ past projects, joining him as co-directors on their riveting doc, The Central Park Five. After spending unwarranted years behind bars, the young men – Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray – once thought to have brutally beaten and raped an innocent jogger in Central Park during the spring of 1989 were finally vindicated in 2002 after an imprisoned man came forward to confess his crimes. Major media coverage of when the five wrongfully convicted men paled in comparison to their initial slandering trial coverage, but with this film and Sara Burns’ extensively researched book from which the film was germinated, those involved hope to spread the word of their innocence.

As an exhaustive investigation into the failings of New York City police work and societal prejudice that lingered in the wake of this despicable tragedy, the film makes a poignant platform for discussion on the merits of taking shortcuts for what is considered ‘the greater good’. Throughout the investigation and the trials that followed, immoral steps were taken and definitive facts were overlooked to close the highly publicized case as quickly as possible. This meant that detectives coerced the kids to falsely admit witnessing or even partaking in the rape, and even disregarded DNA evidence that proved they weren’t at the scene of the crime. With a flurry of archival news coverage and input on the events by public figures like New York City Mayor at the time Ed Koch and New York Times journalist Jim Dwyer, as well as various doctors, lawyers and jurors that were directly involved, nearly every detail of the events are called into question and every legal error is put on display.

While the story unfolds and truths come out of the heart of New York, the soul of the film stays in the hands of the five men who’s lives were irreparably altered. Their guileless recollections of the infamous night of ‘wilding’ and the following days of interrogations that led to their unjust arrest and long incarcerations are truly heartbreaking when paired with the additional perspectives of worried family members and footage of ignorant public outrage. As we see our societal systems breaking down at the most basic levels, The Central Park Five elegantly marks a point in U.S. history we hope to avoid repeating.

Disc Review:

PBS has gone with a no nonsense approach for the film’s home release. No load time menus and a lack of intro ads are a warm welcome to the disc. The film itself is often stunning, despite the extensive use of low grade 80s archival footage. News clips, stock period footage and grainy interviews are well integrated and cleaned up as much as possible. All of the recently conducted interviews are incredibly crisp close-ups, allowing extreme detail in skin and hair detail. Aurally lush (for a doc), the 5.1 Dolby track gives some love to the surrounds with period hip hop tracks and eerie ambiance, while voices sound natural and warm, as they should. The disc itself comes in a standard Blu-ray case.

Interviews With The Filmmakers
Within this grouping of retrospective interviews, broken up into four segments Making The Film, A New York Wilding, The Family Business and Subpoena, the trio reflects on the lengthy process of gaining the five accused’s trust, the task of finding a stylistic sweet spot that veered from the traditional Burns historically nostalgic tone and why this situation actually took place in New York during the 80s. They also speak about being subpoenaed by the authorities for all the research and video they collected during the filmmaking process.

After The Central Park Five
It took quite a while for Sarah Burns to get the Central Park Five to open up and completely trust in her intentions for not only the film, but her book as well. When the film finally premiered at Toronto, Raymond Santana was there to take in the standing ovation that welcomed him to the stage. As the film make the festival rounds, the group finally stood together for Q&As and found that the film has truly done them justice and it has been nothing but a positive part of the reacclimatization back into society. Here, that journey is spoken about by all five men, as well as the filmmakers.

Final Thoughts:

Though the film carries the Ken Burns name with a thorough confidence expected from the pedigree, it doesn’t exactly feel like a Ken Burns film. This is due to the fact that it’s really a labor of love and empathy that his daughter Sarah has been working on for the last decade. This infusion of new blood and passion for the subject carries through into the picture, making the tragic story of The Central Park Five a sorely needed public apology. Nothing can give these men back the time ripped from them at the hands of an anguished society blind with rage, but Sarah wants to let them know that everyone screwed up and we’re deeply sorry.

Click to comment

More in Disc Reviews

To Top