It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer. - Sir William BlackstoneOn April 19, 1989 several black and Hispanic teenage boys from Harlem in New York City decided to spend part of the evening "hanging out" in Manhattan's Central Park. Over the course of the next 48 hours five of them were charged with the brutal assault and rape of a white 28-year-old investment banker who had been attacked while jogging in the park. The Central Park Five, a new documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns, examines how the five youths were interrogated, coerced into making contradictory confessions, excoriated in the press, tried, convicted, sent to prison, forced to register as sex offenders, and eventually exonerated. It is a frightening and sobering account of how police and prosecutors sometimes can (and do) get it wrong, and it should shake the viewer's confidence in our criminal justice system.
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DD, English 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 59 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-rayStandard Blu-ray Amaray
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 04/23/2013
It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer. - Sir William BlackstoneOn April 19, 1989 several black and Hispanic teenage boys from Harlem in New York City decided to spend part of the evening "hanging out" in Manhattan's Central Park. Over the course of the next 48 hours five of them were charged with the brutal assault and rape of a white 28-year-old investment banker who had been attacked while jogging in the park. The Central Park Five, a new documentary by Ken Burns, David McMahon, and Sarah Burns, examines how the five youths were interrogated, coerced into making contradictory confessions, excoriated in the press, tried, convicted, sent to prison, forced to register as sex offenders, and eventually exonerated. It is a frightening and sobering account of how police and prosecutors sometimes can (and do) get it wrong, and it should shake the viewer's confidence in our criminal justice system.The five who were accused of the assault - Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yousef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise - were part of large group of black and Hispanic youths who entered Central Park that evening. By their own admission, many members of the loosely-knit group were intent upon mischief. Rocks were thrown at cars and bicyclists were harassed. When the police arrived the boys fled, but several of them were taken into custody and were being processed for release when the victim of the rape was discovered. The police decided that the young men they had in custody were likely suspects, and they set out to interrogate them. Of the five who were implicated with the crime, only Korey Wise was old enough to be tried as an adult. To hear the accused tell it, they were subjected to leading questions, were lied to, and were given promises which the questioning detectives had no intention of keeping (the police and prosecutors refused to be interviewed for the film). Each boy was promised that he would be allowed to go home if he only told the "truth" about what the other four boys did. The result was videotaped confessions in which the defendants were unable to say exactly when and where the attack occurred and they gave conflicting stories about who supposedly did what to the woman.With confessions in hand, arrests were made and the news media ran with the prosecution's story. The youths were accused of having gone to the park to participate in "wilding," a word coined to describe random assaults upon innocent people who happened to be walking, jogging or bicycling. Newspapers routinely and repeatedly referred to the boys as "savages" and members of a "wolfpack." To the public, conviction of the defendants seemed to be a foregone conclusion, but the prosecution had problems. Foremost among them was the absence of any physical evidence to place any of the boys at the scene of the crime. The victim had been brutally beaten, but none of the defendants had blood on them. The DNA evidence found at the scene did not yield any matches, and the only DNA found was from one unidentified person. There also were inconsistencies in the prosecution's timeline, but the videotaped confessions were damning. The detectives who conducted the interrogations denied any wrongdoing.All of the Central Park Five participated in the filming of this documentary, although Anton McCray contributed his voice but refused to be photographed. Interspersed with their interviews (and interviews of relatives and attorneys) are vintage television news clips and many still photographs. Among the many interesting events resurrected by the film is the sight of Donald Trump, supremely confident that the defendants are guilty, spending $85,000 to run full-page ads in New York newspapers calling for the State to reinstate the death penalty, and former New York City mayor Ed Koch bemoaning the fact that he has to refer to the accused as "alleged" rapists. The film raises serious questions about the fairness of our criminal justice system. A question which immediately comes to mind is why it is not required that all police interrogations be videotaped in their entirety. One of the defendants was represented by an attorney who dozed off during testimony, and a trial judge allowed the victim to testify even though she admitted that she had absolutely no memory of the attack.In the beginning of this review I quote Sir William Blackstone, one of the most important and influential legal minds of the past 300 years. It would seem that too many prosecutors, in their zeal to gain convictions, have lost sight of Blackstone's warning that it is better to let ten guilty people go free than to wrongfully convict one innocent person. The Central Park Five is a powerful, cautionary film about a rush to judgment which was highly charged with racial overtones, and it is highly recommended.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
The 1.85:1 1080p image utilizes the MPEG-4 AVC codec and looks very good. As one would expect, the footage from 25-year-old television sources is variable. Some of it is a bit soft and grainy, but overall even the old material is very watchable. The film even manages to include parts of the actual videotaped confessions from 1989. The more recent footage, which includes nearly all of the interviews conducted by the filmmakers, is very sharp and highly detailed, with some outstanding aerial shots of New York City.
Video Rating: 4/5 3D Rating: NA
The viewer can choose to hear the audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or 2.0 stereo. Both versions sound fine to my ears, although the 5.1 soundtrack gives the musical soundtrack a larger soundstage. The dialogue is spread across the three front channels and is easy to understand. There are available subtitles in English and Spanish.
Audio Rating: 4/5
This Blu-ray presentation contains a worthwhile selection of extras."Making the Film" is a seven-minute featurette which gives directors Sarah Burns, David McMahon and Ken Burns the opportunity to discuss how the film arose out of a book which Sarah wrote about the Central Park assault case. This film also is a departure from the typical Ken Burns film in that there is no narration."A New York Wilding" explores the sociological status of New York City in 1989, a time when the city was seemingly overrun with street crime and racial tensions."The Family Business" offers some insight into how the film was put together. Sarah Burns is the daughter of Ken Burns, and David McMahon is Sarah's husband. It was Sarah who earned the trust of the Central Park Five and convinced them to tell their stories."The Subpoena" explores the fact that in 2003 the five wrongfully accused men filed a civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York for wrongful arrest and imprisonment. Many viewers will be astonished to learn that the lawsuit has still not been resolved. In September 2012 the attorneys for New York City served a subpoena for all of the filmmakers' outtakes and notes. The filmmakers refused to comply with the subpoena and filed a motion to have it quashed."After the Central Park Five" gives the five men the chance to talk about how their lives were changed by their convictions and how they have struggled to get back on their feet since they were cleared and had the convictions expunged from their records. It has a running time of 13 minutes.
Special Features Rating: 3.5/5
The Central Park Five is a riveting, intense documentary which raises serious questions about the fairness of our criminal justice system. Stylistically this film is something of a departure from the typical Ken Burns documentary, but it is a worthy addition to his distinguished filmography.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Richard Gallagher
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