It feels like only five minutes since the last addictive pulp serial, but we’re already in withdrawal. Where’s my next American Crime Story fix, dammit? Here: The Night Of, a Brit TV import adapted by novelist Richard Price (Clockers) and filmmaker Steven Zaillian (A Civil Action)—storytellers who dig the nitty-gritty of law and order, and know how to turn social realism into great entertainment. Their collaboration is more “True Detective” than Nic Pizzolatto’s cop gothic ever was.
A magnetic Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) plays Nasir Khan, a Pakistani-American lost in Manhattan while searching for a party when he meets an attractive woman, exotic with palpable damage (Sofia Black-D’Elia). Curiosity, sympathy, or perhaps something darker spurs him to see where the night takes him; it ends with his new friend dead from dozens of stab wounds. Is he guilty? Framed? Price and Zaillian keep us guessing and slyly interrogate our assumptions. They also follow the consequences of a Muslim man accused of killing a white woman in a terror-frayed, race-charged culture. Ahmed keeps Naz a sympathetic cipher, even as he hardens, body and soul, while awaiting trial at Rikers, protected and exploited by an authoritative inmate (The Wire’s Michael Kenneth Williams).
Equally impressive are Bill Camp as a wizened detective unsettled by Naz’s mystery, and John Turturro as Naz’s jaded lawyer, a closet idealist whose psoriasis-ravaged feet are easy metaphors for an itchy conscience and, somehow, winning subplots. These powerfully acted investigations drive a narrative that meticulously tracks the procedures, language, and culture of the actors’ work. In doing so, The Night Of produces endless richness and sobering meanings about the degrading cost of a flawed justice system. A–