It Happened One Night
Tripwire continues its list of its Top 30 Crime and Police shows, selected by its editor-in-chief and senior editor. Counting down to its first choice at the end, here’s its 20th entry, HBO’s The Night Of…
20. The Night Of
Creators: Richard Price, Steven Zaillian
Stars: Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams
Based on the plot of Peter Moffat’s UK series Criminal Justice, The Night Of was an ostensibly straightforward drama about a man imprisoned for a murder he did not commit, and the ensuing trial. Starring Riz Ahmed as the accused, John Turturro as his hapless attorney, and Michael K. Williams as the Riker’s Island Mr. Big who takes Ahmed’s fresh fish under his wing, the show succeeds in turning a well-worn premise into a remarkably assured and gripping thriller, which accrued multiple Emmys.
What provides the series with its narrative thrust is the expertly handled character development, and the relatively subdued pacing, which does see Ahmed’s Naz Khan become a more enigmatic figure. With the politics of the trial swamping any inherent warmth in the lead character, Khan’s past reveals him to be far less innocent than first assumed, while his time in Riker’s jail details his gradual hardening and adjustment to life inside, which was a considerable departure from Ben Whishaw’s meek and befuddled victim in the original version.
Aside from Riz Ahmed’s award-winning effort, it is John Turturro’s performance as John Stone, Khan’s lawyer, who is the soul of the drama. Battling endless politics, red tape, shifting allegiances, fresh evidence and his own debilitating medical issues, Turturro’s Stone (a part originally intended for Robert De Niro) is so likeable and genuine a characterization that he deserves his own series. A mawkish, somewhat gauche everyman, Stone provides the counterpoint to the bleak, shrouded underworld inhabited by Khan and Williams’s Freddy Knight (another superbly measured portrait of villainy from the veteran actor).
Above all, the motor for this production is the suspense that rarely flags, with each development creating further ambiguity and complexity. The courtroom scenes bristle with tension, right up until the denouement, and even beyond that there’s still a lingering uncertainty about what just happened. Couple this with a pitch-perfect cast, spare yet sharp script and engrossingly noir direction and what you have is taut, superb entertainment.
The Night Of is on now on Now TV in the UK and on Amazon Prime in The US