Critical Condition: When They See Us

When They See Us | Netflix, from Friday

☆☆☆☆ “Ava DuVernay’s new limited series about the 1989 ‘Central Park Five’ incident and its legal repercussions …. can’t be included in the true-crime genre, in part because DuVernay’s direction is fueled foremost by mercy, not vengeance. DuVernay (who also co-wrote all four instalments) walks us through the stories of poorly-understood men with a careful eye on the grinding wheels of justice but with an understanding, too, that the system is often destined to fail the most vulnerable.” — Variety.

☆☆☆☆ “The miniseries offers a damning window into the criminal-justice system … While exoneration finally came, the cops and prosecutors responsible are depicted as being largely unrepentant, and the damage — not just to the central five, but rippling outward to those around them — seems incalculable, no matter what price the parties eventually reached to settle a subsequent lawsuit.” — CNN.

☆☆☆☆ “DuVernay’s approach bluntly but successfully turns this story inside-out, borrowing the look of true-crime dramas while discarding the genre’s usual tropes. It focuses primarily on the boys, their families and the irreparable effects of their jailing. Rather than lionise them, it goes one better and humanises them.” — The Washington Post.

☆☆☆☆When They See Us has a tendency to lean into its drama, which can sometimes work and sometimes causes the series to get tripped up in clichés … Because the series is generally so grounded, when it veers off track, it’s especially jarring.  But DuVernay also sometimes dances toward tropes on purpose, only to undercut them in a way that emphasises the lack of fairness that’s the basis for this story.” — New York.

☆☆☆☆ “In an age of fast-paced, plot-twisting crime TV, the awful momentum of this devastating series felt agonisingly slow and predictable at times: like a perfectly aimed bowling ball travelling in slow motion. The emotional weight of Duvernay’s respect for the physical and emotional facts settled slowly in your stomach. You wanted to cheer when the wrongful convictions were vacated. But the sight of the now grown men returning to their childhood bedrooms hollowed the triumph.” — The Telegraph.

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