Title: The Central Park Five
Director: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
The Central Park Five is a 118 minute documentary that examines a racially intense case, with provocative doses of police corruption, back in 1989 New York City.
Five teenagers (4 minors, 1 adult – 16 years-old) are suspected of beating and raping a female jogger in Central Park. Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Kharey Wise, Yusef Salaam, and Raymond Santana were detained by NYC detectives, as they all admitted to being in the park around the time of incident. As they give present day testimonials on what happened 23 years ago (the shady investigation, trial, and eventual imprisonment), experts who were involved and followed the proceedings also weigh in on the social & political climate and modus operandi of the time period in that town.
It’s constructed in the same vein as last year’s Oscar nominated Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, which chronicled the erroneous handling of the “West Memphis Three.” That said, Central Park Five, while very intriguing and factual, kind of forces a cinematic presentation together.
The parts where the boys are going through what occurred during the investigation will have you hanging on every word. But when they invite others, such as journalists, historians, and former elected officials, trying to describe the tense racially charged reaction in the crime-laced city, it just seems like an incoherent ramble that can never truly make an impactful connection with the boys’ trials and tribulations.
Point is though, and that’s always lingering in your mind as you watch, this actually happened. And while the filmmakers present a plethora of evidence and footage from 1989-1990, they are missing one crucial element that all docs should encompass: A counter-argument.
Even with the piece methodically introducing a timeline of events and properly piecing the boys’ story together (all of them are interviewed separately), they needed to provide more info on why this case was handled the way it was by the people involved back then. There are a few licks of that, but not enough to enable this as a riveting watch.
Overall, The Central Park Five can capture your attention through the candid and unedited conversations with the “five.” When it tries to tie-in the surrounding atmosphere for the time period however, it just doesn’t have that “wow” factor of similar docs that have covered this issue.