Roush Review: ‘When They See Us’ Careens From Rage and Sorrow to Horror
The emotional roller coaster never lets up, careening from rage and sorrow to horror in director-cowriter Ava DuVernay‘s shattering four-part dramatization of the infamous Central Park Five case.
In 1989, five Harlem teens were the wrong race (African-American and Latino) in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were accused of a savage rape in Central Park. Most didn’t even know each other, and despite zero evidence and contradictory details, they are all railroaded into confessions. Employing some of the finest young actors since the fourth season of The Wire, DuVernay harrowingly depicts their confusion, fear and exhaustion as police coerce false confessions, leading to lopsided separate trials.
“It’s no longer about justice,” the prosecutor (Vera Farmiga) tells one of their lawyers. “It’s about politics. And politics is about survival, and there’s nothing fair about survival.”
Fairness has little to do with the fate of these boys and their families, trapped in an unyielding system. In a flawless cast that features Felicity Huffman (filmed before the college-admissions scandal) in one of the least sympathetic roles, as an unrepentant zealot of a sex-crimes prosecutor, standouts include Michael K. Williams, who’s heartbreaking as a guilt-wracked father, and the outstanding Jharrel Jerome as Korey Wise, the only one of the five tried and convicted as an adult. His prison ordeal, which occupies much of the powerful fourth and final chapter, is almost too much to bear.
Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold—it was already the subject of an acclaimed 2012 documentary (The Central Park Five) from Ken Burns, Sarah Burns and David McMahon—and in When They See Us, DuVernay has done them justice.
Check out the new trailer for the miniseries below:
When They See Us, Series Premiere, Friday, May 31, Netflix