“The Night Of” Will Define the Careers of Many
With the HBO hit show “The Night Of” concluded, it’s time to reflect on how important this show is now and how it could further become the gold standard for crime dramas.
There isn’t a lot of limited series, since a lot of people want to live with the characters, not abandon them right away like in a movie.
“The Night Of” not only redefined what could be a drama on television, but how so many actors are either going to have a second half revival or become a star in their career.
Riz Ahmed is the Rising Star of 2016
The picture above is shortly after Nasir Khan (Ahmed) is arrested. He plays a bumbling, nerdy kid who’s just trying to navigate the world and hook up with a girl at a party.
He harmlessly takes his father’s cab and goes out, not anticipating he’d meet, probably, the love of his life in Andrea Cornish.
Khan’s transformation from his long haired, scrawny boy appearance, to a bald headed, tattoo sporting man who stares people down who wronged him in a diner.
Khan’s physical prowess on screen is captivating. From his quick shuffles to his eventual thuggish prowl. While you can’t take your eyes off him, examining his increase in muscle mass from each episode, his physical nature doesn’t consume the entire screen.
Freddy (Michael Kenneth Williams) is able to move and be around Khan without you thinking Ahmed is pulling a Jake Gyllenhall and being the guy in “Nightcrawler”.
In fact, his contrast to his legal representative, the downtrodden John Stone (John Turturro) who slides his feet because he’s constantly in pain because of his eczema and his slouched shoulders.
Ahmed is set to star in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, with a role that won’t be extremely large, but still a chance for millions of people to see him in action.
The biggest What If I have is when the show was set to air years ago with the late Jame Gandolfini (more on him later) set to star as John Stone, would Ahmed have been ready? Could he have starred down his enemies with menace, portray a shy boy, and smoke heroin like a seasoned drug addict?
My guess is no.
The Defense, the Detective, and the D.A.
Turturro is the G.O.A.T
Riz Ahmed was the quarterback, leading the narrative down the field for a last second victory.
The head coach for Ahmed was John Turturro.
John Stone was a character that is legendary now, a person who suffered, at times, just as much as Ahmed.
Stone is an ambulance chasing, plea deal making, lawyer who knew he was in over his head, which was made clear by his colleagues, wife, and parents of Ahmed.
By the end, what is Stone? The same man.
What a character arc. Beginning at one place, jumping from low to high, then returning to his usual place. Usually a character wouldn’t have enough time to go through such dramatic changes in just eight episodes.
This role can give Turturro a chance at roles that maybe he couldn’t get before, when he was best known for his roles in Coen Brothers’ films and bad Adam Sandler films.
While Ahmed played the role of intimidator, while Stone played the leper.
Think about the fact that Gandolfini wanted to do this role, a passion project of his before he died, how vastly different it would be. Turturro is slender and normal sized, while Gandolfini was a large man, who’s role in “The Sopranos” was so believable because of his large size.
Even Robert DeNiro, who wanted to take the role but eventually declined, could’ve had the same potential for Turturro: a chance at a second life in this business.
DeNiro needs it. His awful comedies and even worse boxing movie “Hands of Stone” should’ve never happened, and maybe wouldn’t have if he does this role and cement his legacy as the greatest actor ever.
Even after the first episode, I thought there was no way anyone else could’ve played Stone.
As the cat ran across the screen in the closing seconds, after indulging in a few seconds of a commercial that brings most to tears, Stone’s vulnerable, downtrodden presence did actually change, unlike I said before.
Stone bears his cross of eczema, being a little-respected lawyer, and most of all dimming street light in the big city of New York.
But for a moment, a short moment, the light was bright, illuminating the street and keeping people safe.
The light is still on though, keeping the street lit to guide the people home.
Bill Camp is the Character Actor We Deserve
Who was Bill Camp before “The Night Of”? He had a guest spot in the HBO show “The Leftovers”, played a craze man yelling at Riggan Thompson in “Birdman”, and played a vicious slave transporter in “12 Years a Slave”.
Look at that list, a hit show, two Oscar winners for Best Picture, and starred in movies for Steven Spielberg, Michael Mann, and Cameron Crowe.
That’s what Camp does. He comes in for a few innings, throws 10 pitches an inning with seven of them topping 100 miles per hour. He’s steals scenes, without stealing the film from the top billed.
Camp was born for this role, an opportunity that should’ve been given to him when he was a young man.
Camp plays Detective Box, your best friend or your worst enemy. When we’re introduced to Box, he lumbers through a crime scene, threatening to shake a young man to see how much weed will fall out of him.
He plays Khan’s best friend, getting his inhaler, comforting him. He doesn’t push, but gently places his hand on Khan’s shoulder, keeping him at a comfortable distance, but still playing a father figure.
He simply tells Khan that he knows he did it, but needs specifics and a confession so that Box can serve as a NYU security guard for his remaining days.
Box is never convinced of Khan’s guilt, but the evidence is hard, even as a viewer, to dismiss him.
Box’s presence in the first episode is Randy Johnson-esque, but switches to a Cole Hamels changeup for the middle episodes, until he pulls out the Mariano Rivera cutter to put away Cornish’s financial adviser for the final out.
The picture above is one of the best showings of Camp’s physical nature on screen. Shortly after testifying, starting to believe that he was wrong, he walks into a bar to enjoy his retirement party.
Before that, was one of the most fascinating parts of the entire series. Box stops before he enters, his shoulders look heavy, like his arms might fall off because of his guilt of possibly sending an innocent man to jail for the rest of his life.
He still goes in to the party though, because he needs to. It’s his job. He began as the starter and ended as the closer. No amount of faux-detective work from Stone or Chondra (Amara Karan) will take away from what Box has done.
Camp needs to continue to do these roles. Make everyone better around him, but isn’t necessarily the star.
The Cross Examination to End All Court Room Scenes
In the final episode of “The Night Of” we didn’t have much from District Attorney Helen Weiss (Jeannie Berlin). Sure we got to see her strategy and we looked a little into her character’s quirky mannerisms, but nothing that said Berlin deserved this role over anyone else.
When next years Emmy’s come, I can’t wait to see which clip they play when they announced Berlin for Best Supporting Actress in a Limited Series.
Even though there really is only one. It’s Weiss, after seven episodes, passing on red herrings and going toe-to-toe with the most eccentric pathologist ever.
It’s Weiss vs. Khan, with Khan continuing his story about not being able to recollect the night of Cornish’s murder, when Weiss pulls out the big guns and says what no viewer wanted to say or think: even if Khan didn’t wield the knife, he wasn’t necessarily absolved from guilt.
Khan, in any way you look at it, killed Cornish.
Weiss’ speech is deliberate and soft, never wavering, even when Khan asks how you would like it to stand trial.
Weiss quickly disarms Khan, then continues to show why she’s the District Attorney.
Her cross examination is so thorough, even Khan believes it in a sense, saying he didn’t know if he did it or not. A key issue since Khan was the last one questioned, a severe back fire from thrown-under-the-bus Chondra.
Berlin is an Oscar nominated actress, who made waves in “The Heartbreak Kid” in 1972 and has made appearances in films like “Inherent Vice” and “Cafe Society”.
Berlin has a gap from 1976 to 1990, then a few sprinkles of work in the early 2000s.
Like Camp, Berlin is probably best suited in a role that is supporting, being offensive linemen for Ahmed, protecting him in a role that won’t give her as much acclaim as Ahmed, still vital none-the-less.
“The Night Of” Spoiled Us
From shitting out 8-balls to throwing a nitroglycerine cocktail of baby oil and hot water, “The Night Of” gave us a story that will have many people attempting to replicate it.
The Limited Series is something that I hope catches on. Consider for a moment, “True Detective” season one.
Imagine if that was a limited series.
No anthology. No awful performances Vince Vaughn, Taylor Kitsch, or Rachel McAdams (say what you will but Ray Velcoro has a special place in my heart). No slew of directors trying to replicate the masterful, stunning directing of Cary Fukunaga.
Just this wonderful, gripping piece of story that encapsulated the McConaughsance and ladies man Marty Hart.
“True Detective” season one was special, but “The Night Of” is legendary.
The bench was deep for players, asking more than the sixth man to come in and get buckets.
No, they told the towel boy to guard LeBron James driving the lane for the championship, and the rookie blocked him and shot a three from half court to win the game.
Whether it’s Weiss’ new found passion for justice, Box’s will to put away the bad guys, the Khan family’s deep spiral into hate, torment, and bankruptcy, or Stone’s ability to recognize his role in the world, these characters could be all of us at anytime.
We could be the skeptical lawyer who just wants to get the job done, the guilt ridden officer who may send an innocent man to a death sentence, a lawyer who picked at his disease before embracing his weakness, to the kid sitting underneath a bridge, smoking some heroin and reflecting on the girl he knew for a short time but fell for immediately.
We’ll never know if Khan’s life is ruined, if he’ll stay under the bridge, continuing to live his life like he’s still an inmate at Rikers.
At any moment, we could be Nasir Khan.