Archive for August, 2016

the night ofIn an era of binge-watching TV series new and old (for me , the new was/is Bloodline; the old was The Shield and now The Wire), there are still some new shows that offer the old-school, one-week-per-episode manner of piquing your interest — and can make you just as obsessive as when you watch every single episode of The Sopranos over a weekend.

Such is the case with HBO’s latest “limited series,” a gripping crime story called, The Night Of. Based on the BBC series “Criminal Justice,” the eight-episode drama stars John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) and Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) in a story about a complex New York City murder case — and tinges of race, politics and social mores:  A night that begins innocently for Pakistani-American college student Nasir “Naz” Khan turns horrific after he meets a mysterious young woman. In custody and awaiting his formal arraignment, Naz realizes that his survival — or perhaps his demise — rests not with his attorney, John Stone, but with a particular inmate at Rikers Island.

As of this writing, the penultimate episode aired last Sunday, and I’m already crawling the walls to see how this ends. The Night Of is the most compelling crime drama I’ve seen since True Detectives (first season).

Loaded with a cast that, for the most part, has gone unheralded (with the exception of John Turturro), TNO is loaded with characters that are as real as they come, brought to life by actors that are invariably pitch perfect. Bill Camp’s performance as Sgt. Detective Dennis Box deserves an Emmy nomination based on the first episode alone, as he portrays a 33-year veteran of the NYPD not with the usual (read: sterotypical) cynicism and swagger, but with introspection, compassion and a level of competency and decency that rivets the viewer. Ahmed, while not as compelling (and hold that thought), adroitly moves within his character’s layers of bravado, deception and insecurity and makes you sympathetic, even as you squirm as his true character is revealed. Naz’s mother, played flawlessly by Poorna Jagannathan, has what seems like less than 10 words an episode, yet you feel every bit of her pain as she is assailed by doubt, heartbreak, shame and guilt. Of all the cast members, her performance is the most sublime. 

Turturro owns his part part as Jack Stone, a sleazeball gutter lawyer whose ads (“No Fee Til You’re Free!”) all over buses are nearly as cheap as his suits and whose excruciating eczema on his feet is almost too much to watch. But, sleazy as he is, he believes his is a true calling, even as he views his client through jaded eyes. “The truth can go to hell,” Stone tells Naz early on, “because it doesn’t help you.” Turturro took the part after Robert DeNiro couldn’t, and for that, I’m grateful. Turturro nails it.

I can’t help but think of the recent sort-of-documentary around the Steven Avery case when watching each episode, as information is revealed in layers, like the peeling of an onion, and the viewer is pulled from one verdict to another as Naz’s case progresses through the judicial system and Naz himself navigates his way through a terrifying existence at Rikers Island. (Due to his bail being denied, he is ordered held until trial.)

The jail sequences are the weak point of what is otherwise an airtight show. Naz instantly transforms from a scrawny, skittish college kid into a hardened prison thug in, literally, in one jump cut, from knuckle tattoos and a shaved head to a dangerous alliance with the convict kingpin (the superb Michael Kenneth Williams), who turns him into a drug mule and introduces Naz to crack cocaine — in his cell at Rikers. This, apparently, is to set up the fact that Naz is not quite the nice kid we think he is and that he has secrets of his own, but the transformation is too sudden and jarring to ring true.

Yet, even though this strains the suspension of my disbelief, The Night Of is engrossing and smart. It’s easily the best new series of the summer.

 

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Outside-02-215x330Some early advance reviews for Outside the Law are in, which you can check out below and over at Brash Books.

Grant Jerkins, whose award-winning debut, A Very Simple Crime, was called, “An extremely nasty study in abnormal psychology” by the New York Times, writes:

“Through the deeply flawed character of Sheriff Colt Harper, Phillip Thompson explores Larry Brown’s rough south, digging deeper and seeking a truce with the interloping outside world, and Harper’s tormented inner world as well. Thompson writes about the tendency of a good man toward violence. The need to seek redemption for the sins of the past—even if that redemption is through more violence. Maybe especially. Outside the Law is my kind of book, and Phillip Thompson’s Mississippi is a rough south indeed. One I hope he’ll revisit.”

Eryk Pruitt is the author two crime novels, Dirtbags and Hashtag. He’s also an award-winning filmmaker in North Carolina whose short films Foodie and The Hoodoo of Sweet Mama Rosa have been featured in film festivals across the United States.  His take on Outside the Law:

Outside the Law marks the long-awaited return of Colt Harper, Phillip Thompson’s hardened Mississippi sheriff dispensing his own brutal brand of justice. It is quintessential Thompson: dialogue flammable as a jar of white lightning, characters real enough to punch in the face, and a plot with more twists than a Mississippi black snake. This book is perfect for folks who weren’t ready for Justified to end.”

Breaking news: OUTSIDE THE LAW (paperback version) is now available for pre-order. The ebook version will be available for pre-order in November. So get on over to Amazon and do what you do. And while you’re at it, visit Brash Books for more info on this, the next Colt Harper tale of crime, justice and redemption.

Outside-02-215x330From the publisher: “Someone is robbing and killing drug dealers in Sheriff Colt Harper’s rural Mississippi county. Harper is a stoic man-of-action with his own strong, moral code… one that exists outside the law. He’s up for reelection, seeking redemption for past sins, while battling a rise in drug crimes and the recent murders of two local drug dealers. But his troubles are only beginning. A Memphis drug lord has sent Hack, a cold-blooded assassin, to the county to stop the killings and the Sheriff’s costly crusade against his business. It’s Hack’s last chance to redeem himself for past, gruesome sins that even his drug lord employer can’t abide. At the same time, ATF Special Agent Molly McDonough, exiled to the Memphis backwater after disobeying orders and insubordination, has picked up on Hack’s trail of corpses and has followed them to the county, hoping this is the case that will redeem herself and save her once fast-rising career. The fates of these three brutally collide in a battle where redemption can only be found in blood and bullets.”