Turturro’s tour de force

‘The Night Of’ is worth staying up for.

‘The Night Of’ (photo credit: PR)
‘The Night Of’
(photo credit: PR)
The new HBO series The Night Of, starring John Turturro, is a suspenseful and very well done police procedural. It will air on YES VOD and YES Oh on Mondays at 11 p.m., starting on August 8.
Is it, as it has been called by several critics, another The Wire? No.
And it does the show a disservice to make that comparison. The Night Of focuses on two characters and how they make their way through New York’s criminal justice system. The Night Of doesn’t attempt the panoramic reach of The Wire.
It was created by Steven Zaillian, who has written, produced and directed many movies, among them Schindler’s List and Gangs of New York, and novelist/screenwriter Richard Price (who wrote several episodes of The Wire).
It’s about Naz (Riz Ahmed), a young Pakistani/American college student who lives with his parents.
He studies hard, tutors the star of the basketball team and is generally a good kid. When the basketball star invites him to a party in Manhattan, Naz decides to go, and takes his father’s taxi without telling him. He has never driven it before and doesn’t know how to turn on the off-duty light. When a beautiful young woman, Andrea (Sofia Black- D’Elia), climbs in and asks to go to the beach, he spends the night with her. He awakens and finds that she has been stabbed to death, and not long afterwards he is arrested for her murder. Turturro plays Jack Stone, a lawyer who believes in Naz and thinks he has a chance to beat the rap, in spite of the overwhelming evidence against him.
Riz Ahmed gives a convincing performance as this wide-eyed hero.
Ahmed, a British actor, appears in the latest Jason Bourne movie and will star in Rogue One, one of the upcoming Star Wars movies. It’s important that he make the character extremely likable because the early episodes leave open the possibility that he may be guilty, although that seems unlikely.
But the showier role goes to John Turturro as the jailhouse lawyer who spots Naz at the precinct and takes pity on him, offering to represent him. Turturro is a wonderfully entertaining actor, but he is, at heart, more of an actor than an entertainer.
He is best known for his showstopping, comic turn as Jesus Quintana in the film The Big Lebowski.
Those who attended the master classes he gave last year at the Jerusalem Film Festival will remember his quick comedy skills as he mimicked Woody Allen and Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others (you can see the class he gave to Israeli filmmakers, hosted by Avi Nesher, on YouTube at www.youtube.com/ watch?v=D54H609YCy0. It’s well worth watching). But he is also a wonderful dramatic actor, and here he gets the chance to show that side of himself.
In The Night Of, Turturro displays a compelling mixture of contradictory qualities often found in those who take on thankless do-gooding work.
Jack Stone is arrogant, in spite of the fact that his record doesn’t justify his overarching confidence. He does seem brilliant, but he is in free fall: His wife has left him, he suffers from several illnesses and, although he once seemed on track to become one of New York’s top lawyers, he is now a bottom feeder who gets clients through subway ads.
The Los Angeles Times said the series could be called The Night of the Character Actor, and I agree. This is Turturro at the top of his game.
The series was originally set to star the late James Gandolfini, the actor who played Tony on The Sopranos, who died in 2013. The eight-episode series features a host of other excellent character actors, among them two The Wire alums, Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar) and J.D. Williams (Bodie).
The Night Of is a remake of the British series Criminal Justice, which is showing on YES London.
The squeamish should be warned that if this were a movie, it would definitely be rated R.
It’s a highly addictive series, so don’t start it unless you are prepared to get hooked.