Yusef Salaam (second from left) was one of five men put through hell.
THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE (Ken Burns, David McMahon, Sarah Burns). 119 minutes. Opens Tuesday (December 25). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNNNN
Plenty of wrongful-conviction films have come and gone, but that doesn't detract from the emotional punch of The Central Park Five. These films carry a message that bears repeating, since we never do learn our lessons.
This arresting and infuriating doc recounts how the justice system, the media and the public rushed to convict five young men of colour in the 1989 Central Park Jogger case. A woman was so viciously raped and beaten that she couldn't recall the incident, leaving the police clutching at straws - in this case the group of young black men apprehended nearby.
Lucid interviews with the subjects, archival footage and Rakim pumping up the volume on the soundtrack contribute to the filmmakers' depiction not just of the incident, but of the atmosphere in 80s New York City, where race-based fears had the public and media crying for blood.
Burns and company don't get caught up in their topic's sensationalism, but conduct a thorough, riveting investigation that does a far better job of assessing the tragedy than the justice system did two decades before. Of course, hindsight is an advantage we all take for granted.