Movie review: 'The Central Park Five' - 3.5 stars

The Central Park Five.

The Central Park Five. (Credit: "The Central Park Five")

The Central Park Five
3.5 stars
Documentary by Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, David McMahon
Not Rated

A maelstrom that brought to a head the simmering racial tensions and widespread safety fears that defined New York during the '80s, the Central Park Jogger case was the terrible end to a tumultuous decade.

But even during the Bloomberg era, the ramifications of the crime in which white jogger Trisha Meili was beaten and raped on April 19, 1989, and one Hispanic and four African American teens were wrongfully convicted in the attack  are still being felt.

So it's an appropriate, if unlikely, subject for a Ken Burns documentary. The master, who co-directed "The Central Park Five" with his daughter Sarah Burns and son-in-law David McMahon, specializes in ambitious historical portraits of sweeping subjects. Think "Baseball," "The Civil War" and "Jazz."

But if there's one thematic current that connects Burns' work, it's the way his movies lend urgency to the past, drawing the audience into worlds left behind and showing us the ways their lessons reverberate in the present.

In “The Central Park Five,” the wrongfully convicted men tell their stories. They’re punctuated by period footage that shows the uproar over the case and the ways reactions split largely on racial lines. In the end, the movie offers a strong sense of what the filmmakers perceive to be a rush to convict amid a media frenzy.

The men had their convictions overturned in 2002, but the case isn’t over. There’s a $250 million civil suit and a city subpoena for clips from the documentary.

Most of all, “The Central Park Five” offers a sobering portrait of the five additional lives destroyed by that terrible night and an earnest plea for thoughtful, well-considered justice in the future.

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