The story at the heart of The Central Park Five is heart-breaking and frustrating, ending with a much too late reconciliation. The film focuses on the wrongful arrest and persecution, in 1989, of five teenaged black and Latino youths in the gruesome attack and rape of a jogger in New York City’s Central Park. Co-directed by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon expertly executed and the presentation will seem familiar to anyone familiar with any of Ken Burns’ other documentaries. The filmmakers had access to all five, with one opting to have only his voice recorded. Not surprising for a film involving Ken Burns, The Central Park Five includes plenty of excellent archival footage. The film presents an excellent snapshot of a particular place at a particular time making the film as much about the racism of the period in general as it is about this particular incident.
Despite the importance of the story and the professional presentation, I had a difficult time feeling engaged. Part of the problem is that the film begins with a voice over of someone admitting to the crime. Between that and the clear malfeasance of the police, the innocence of the youths is never in doubt thereby depriving the film of any real narrative drive. It become merely procedural. A point is made in the film about how journalists love a timeline and the strict chronology here gives the film a “this happened and then this happened and then this happened” feel, as the filmmakers mechanically follow the timeline of what transpired. Unfortunately, the police and prosecutors declined to be interviewed for the film, making it a one-sided tale and further stripping any tension. Also, at 2 hours, The Central Park Five feels overly long and could definitely benefit from some tightening.
That said, the story is an important one that reveals the racism by those in power that threatens justice in many communities.
Using the festival’s scoring system, I rank The Central Park Five as Good or 3 out of a possible 5
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