“Don’t you do what everyone else tells you to do?”
In a lean 80 minutes, the series premiere of The Night Of pulls you into a world that reflects our own, utilizing a central murder case to shine a light on the system that runs our lives. It doesn’t seem like a particularly groundbreaking piece of work, but it’s clear that the creative team understands how to take a classic concept and make it more engrossing than ever before. The production values are impeccable, the acting is compelling, and the story is the type to inspire a bunch of scene-analyzing and clue-searching. By the end of “The Beach”, the rest of the miniseries is pretty much begging to be binged.
The premiere’s greatest strength is its suspense. Director Steven Zaillian and d.p. legend Robert Elswit–There Will Be Blood, Nightcrawler–are masters at their crafts, foregoing flashy camera movements and shots in favor of smooth pans and deliberate framing. They create a dark, claustrophobic environment that squeezes everyone and everything inward, seemingly pulling you down a never-ending hallway toward your inevitable demise. The story would absolutely not have the same impact without Elswit’s contribution, and it’s awesome to see an accomplished cinematographer like him shoot a television series.
Then, there’s also the story itself. There’s an undercurrent of dread throughout the entire thing, and the pre-murder setup scenes are laced with uncertainty. Right from the outset, you get the sense that there’s something off about Andrea, that Naz is getting himself into a situation that will only get worse moving forward. With every passing second, he falls further into the rabbit hole, each decision sending him spiraling deeper into a criminal justice system that won’t let go anytime soon. Even though he makes wrong choice after wrong choice after wrong choice, 1) you realize that his unique state of panic can very reasonably lead to those choices, and 2) you get enough of a character portrait to understand his state of mind before and after the murder. Ahmed makes his character likable, and it’s easy to empathize with him even though the truth about the night of is still up in the air. It’s evident that this is a character who can be pushed around right now– “don’t you do what everyone else tells you to do?”–and it’ll be interesting to see if he changes over the course of the season.
Overall, “The Beach” is brilliant as a hook. It’s rarely clumsy with its exposition, and by the time John Turturro’s Jack Stone shows up, we’ve already been provided with a strong framework for the series. This looks to be a crime drama/character study done well, and I’m excited to see it play out over the next seven episodes. Buckle up.
-Great work by Bill Camp as Dennis Box, the interrogator. This is a guy who can come across as both friendly and manipulative–as he needs to be–and Camp nails the performance.
-If you haven’t seen Nightcrawler, do so. Riz Ahmed is stellar in it, plus Robert Elswit prettiness.
-As great as Turturro probably is for this role–I’ve heard fantastic things–I would’ve loved to see what Gandolfini could do with this role. Brilliant actor gone too soon.
-Awesome final scene and shot.
-We’ve only seem some of the cast so far. I’m especially looking forward to Michael Kenneth Williams.
QUESTION CORNER: What’s up with that guy’s (Trevor Williams’s friend) lingering stare? Are those two just red herrings? Did they know Andrea? What did Andrea mean by “I can’t be alone tonight?” Does her not completely closing the gate after letting her cat out mean something? Is the cat at the end hers? Did the cat do it?
What about all those witnesses, in particular hearse driver and motorcyclist? What’s up with them? What about the deer head in Andrea’s house? Does that symbolize a watchful eye? Someone who would want to kill her? Why doesn’t Naz have much blood on him? Did he clean himself up? Did someone else? DID HE KILL HER?
-Seeing as Mr. Robot is my regular coverage priority this summer, I’m still unsure as to whether I’ll be reviewing this weekly. The most likely scenario is that I’ll check in again for the finale (or for a particularly phenomenal episode).
Photo credit: HBO, The Night Of