The Central Park Five

Jan 11, 2013

Justice is as much a victim as the young men.

The Central Park Five
Grade: A-
Director: Ken Burns (Brooklyn Bridge), Sarah Burns, David McMahon (Baseball—TV Doc)
Screenplay: Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Rating: NR
Runtime: 119 min.
by John DeSando

In the great Ken Burns tradition, The Central Park Five is a documentary full of detail and a story seamless in drama and heart.  With little voiceover narration and smoothly edited testimonies from talking heads, Burns powerfully tells of the five African-American and Latino young  men convicted  of raping and beating a white female jogger in Central Park on April 20, 1989.

Just like endings last year of another compelling documentary, The Imposter, and the docudramas Argo and Zero Dark Thirty, we know the outcome (their convictions will be vacated by a convict’s confession in 2002). Yet, the dramatic tension is constant as we witness prosecutors and police push for convictions in a racially-charged and violent New York desperately needing closure of an infamous crime that exacerbated that tension.

The coercion of underage suspects and rush to judgment stand just behind the actual crime for horrible injustice. Director Burns gets it right by letting the principals, from the accused to attorneys, tell the story. The ending commentary is the only way to exit, with a lament for the years of young lives stolen and the difficulty of the adults becoming part of the mainstream.
Reality is The Central Park Five’s reason for being and one of the best documentaries in recent years.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel.
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