The Night Of (Season 1, Episode 1)

The Night Of is an eight-part HBO miniseries written by Steve Zaillian (Moneyball) and Richard Price. It is an American adaptation of the British show Criminal JusticeThe Night Of stars Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) as Nasir Khan, a man accused of murdering a girl on the Upper West Side of New York. John Turturro, an extremely talented actor who is, rather unfortunately, widely known by my generation for playing an eccentric Jewish government operative in the Transformers film series, plays Nasir’s lawyer Jack Stone. The series is set to have its broadcast premiere on July 10th. The pilot episode was released on June 24th via HBO’s on-demand streaming services.

I discovered this show while browsing social media when someone posted a link to this trailer, commenting that it gives off vibes reminiscent to the brilliant first season of True Detective, and it does. (The less that can be said about True Detective’s second season, the better.) I hopped on HBO Now planning to find something to watch, and conveniently, the first episode of this series popped up when I logged in.

Nasir Khan is a young college student with a loving family. One night, he steals his father’s cab to go to a party and ends up meeting a beautiful young woman who gets him out of a sticky situation. They grow romantically close throughout the long night, and they eventually go to bed together. Nasir wakes up to find the young woman dead and escapes in the cab, but is picked up for reckless driving and a DUI. Ironically, the patrol car that picks him up also responds to the call for the dead woman, taking Nasir back to the scene of the crime. No one suspects anything more than drunk driving, though, and he is taken down to the station for booking. Through circumstance at the station, they figure Nasir was at the scene, and he is suspected of murder, arrested, and interrogated. What will follow in the upcoming episodes is Nasir and Jack Stone attempting to clear his name whilst Detective Lucas follows up with the investigation of the young woman.

The Night Of’s premiere episode shows tremendous promise and, though it’s not Matthew Mcconaughey nihilistically philosophizing about the cyclical nature of time, it should very well fill the hole left by the best drama of 2014. The cinematography of this show is excellent, and may very well be the best camera work I have seen on television since True Detective itself. The actors are excellent and Nasir is an empathetic, if somewhat naive and foolish character that audiences will feel for. Also excellent is Jeff Wincott as Detective Lucas, the man assigned to investigate the death of the young woman Nasir is accused of killing. John Turturro is awesome, and that’s all I have to say about that.

Richard Price is known for writing HBO’s The Wire, and the realism and groundedness featured in that show returns here. In some ways, this show feels like a spiritual successor to the realistic cop drama that changed television standards forever. The circumstances surrounding Lucas’ initial investigation feel very real, and Price is to thank for that, I think.

The Night Of will probably go places. The premiere episode was nigh outstanding and I hope it continues to be.

The Night Manager

The Night Manager is a 2016 miniseries jointly produced by BBC and AMC. It is based upon the novel by prolific spy fiction writer and former British Intelligence author John le Carre. The miniseries stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe), Olivia Coleman (The lead in the excellent BBC police drama Broadchurch), Hugh Laurie (House on House), and Elizabeth Debecki (The Man from U.N.C.L.E.). The plot of the novel takes place in 1993; the miniseries was adapted for present-day 2016 by David Farr. All episodes were directed by Susanne Bier.

I have always had a peculiar fascination with the world of espionage. It has been extremely interesting to me from a very young age, it’s my version of your Dad’s American Civil War figurines. I have read a few of le Carre’s novels and really enjoyed the 2011 adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy starring Gary Oldman. When it comes to the mainstream audience, though, many find le Carre adaptations to be slow. They are, but slow does not have to mean boring. Let me explain by talking a little bit about le Carre’s career in espionage.

David Cromwell was born to a petty criminal in Liverpool, England and had a very tumultuous home life. He was academically gifted, though he dropped out after butting heads with a school headmaster. Cromwell studied language at the University of Bern in Switzerland before joining Military Intelligence as an interrogator of Germans who crossed over the Iron Curtain via the Berlin Wall. Afterwards, he returned to teach at Oxford where he covertly worked for MI-5, observing radical leftist groups for information on possible Soviet operatives. He became an official MI-5 officer in 1958. He ran agents, tapped phone lines, conducted interrogations, and effected break-ins.While an active agent, Cromwell wrote his first novel under the pseudonym John le Carre (French for “John the Square”).

In 1960, Cromwell transferred to MI-6 (commonly known by the euphemism “The Circus”, conducting operations while working under the cover of “Second Secretary” at the British Embassy in Bonn, and was later transferred to Hamburg. While in Hamburg, he wrote his breakout hit, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, which was adapted into a 1965 film starring Richard Burton. The film won and was nominated for several awards. It won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Cinematography, and Best Art Direction at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards in ’66 and was nominated for Best Actor and Art Direction at the ’66 Oscars, and won several other awards at other publications. In 1964, due to the damage caused by Kim Philby, Cromwell had all of his covers, assets, and active operations compromised by the KGB, and retired from the Service to become a full-time author.

The unique thing about le Carre’s novels (that make him, in my personal opinion, the best in the genre) is the unflinching dedication to realism. Le Carre’s most famous protagonist is George Smiley. Smiley was introduced around a time when people were more welcoming of realistic depictions of espionage, in contrast to James Bond and more “exciting” spy stories. He is wiry, unassuming, unattractive, and distinctly average. Smiley is, however, a master of tradecraft with stunning intellect.

Most of le Carré’s novels are spy stories set in the Cold War (1945–91) and feature Circus agents—unheroic political functionaries aware of the moral ambiguity of their work and engaged in psychological more than physical drama. Le Carré’s books emphasise the fallibility of Western democracy and of the secret services protecting it, often implying the possibility of East-West moral equivalence. Moreover, they experience little of the violence typically encountered in action thrillers and have very little recourse to gadgets. Much of the conflict is internal, rather than external and visible. (Wikipedia)

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold tells the story of a disgruntled Circus employee, Alec Lemas, who defects, revealing secrets to the East German Intelligence Service. Lemas is, in reality, still working as a triple agent  The story is a complex tale of deceptions and lies with little to no action or violence, filled to the brim with equally complex tradecraft terminology.

le Carre’s magnum opus, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first in a trilogy of novels detailing Circus spymaster George Smiley’s hunt for his sinister Russian counterpart, Karla. In the novel, Smiley hunts for a mole at the top of the Circus. His recently deceased boss Control had it narrowed down to five people, codenamed “Tinker,” “Tailor,” “Soldier,” “Poor Man,” and “Beggar Man.” The story is an equally complex and confusing tale grounded in the real world of espionage with le Carre’s distinctly accurate terminology.

All of le Carre’s tales are slow-burning and methodical, as they should be. Unfortunately, this leads to many mainstream audiences (who thought they were to be thrilled out of their seats) to dismiss both The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (which was nominated for over 100 awards from various outlets during the 2012 awards season, winning several) as slow, boring, dumb, and overrated. I rather enjoyed this film, as I mentioned, but when my parents watched it, I remember my Mom asking incredulously “Didn’t this get five stars?”

I was worried The Night Manager miniseries would be a similar situation. I am happy to report that it is not. The plot of The Night Manager involves Jonathan Pine, a former British soldier now working as a night manager for a hotel in Cairo. He meets Sophie Alucan, the mysterious and seductive mistress of Freddie Hammid, a member of the royal family. Sophie tips Jonathan off to an arms deal involving billionaire Richard Roper. On the surface, Roper is a charismatic, charitable, kind philanthropist with a loving wife and child.In reality, Richard Roper is a brutal and pragmatic international arms dealer who will exploit both sides of a conflict as long as there is money involved.

Pine relates information about this arms deal to the proper authorities. Angela Burr is an MI-6 counter-terrorism operative that has been hunting Roper for quite some time. Her attempts to get the intelligence community to investigate Roper have been continually stonewalled. Burr contacts Pine and tells him to get Sophie to safety; she is found murdered, leaving Roper and Hamid in the wind. The event traumatizes Pine, who leaves Cairo for the Swiss Alps.

Two years later, Pine encounters Roper in person for the first time and alerts Burr. Butt senses the anger and rage inside the former soldier and uses that to persuade the young man to go undercover and infiltrate Roper’s inner circle. Burr, aware of the corruption in the intelligence community, assembles a very small team of people in order to carry out this operation. While Pine attempts to work his way into Roper’s good graces and gain information, Burr must keep the operation a secret from prying eyes in both the British and American intelligence communities.

Unlike most of le Carre’s spy tales, The Night Manager, though fairly complex, is extremely simplistic in comparison to his other stories. Though still grounded and filled with accurate spycraft, this story, the first post-Cold War story le Carre published, is free of many of the geopolitical complexities that came with that era. Whereas most of the protagonists of that time period were morally ambiguous, tired, and cynical (as I’m sure was true back in the day), Jonathan Pine is a charming, attractive, fit protagonist with his heart in the right place. This adaptation has ample tension and suspense throughout, relying on the familiar but refreshing built in tension that comes inherently with a character who claims to be something that they are not. It is perhaps the most accessible to mainstream audiences an adaptation of a John le Carre novel will ever be. The locales are vibrant and beautiful, all the cast gives great performances, especially Hugh Laurie.

The Night Manager seems to take aspects that were once a staple of le Carre and turn them on their heads. The characters are young and passionate instead of old and cynical, the locales are colorful and full of inherent beauty,  swapping the murky streets of West Berlin for an island in the Caribbeans. I believe this sudden change in le Carre may have come from the conflict that engulfed the entirety of his professional intelligence career and the majority of his life finally coming to a close.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that, with near universal acclaim, this miniseries is a contender for several Emmys in the 2017 awards season. Le Carre has stated that, while the miniseries does take some liberties with his novel, he found it very enjoyable, and so did I.

Band of Brothers

Band of Brothers is a 2001 HBO miniseries based on the true story of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. The Steven Spielberg/Tom Hanks produced miniseries is a mostly factual account of Easy Company’s exploits in World War II, drawing inspiration from the book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose and Major Richard Winters.

The casting of this show is excellent. It’s strange, in a cool way, that members of the cast ended up exploding in popularity, but years, in some cases decades, later and for completely different projects. Damien Lewis would later go on to star in Showtime’s political spy thriller Homeland in 2011 as Nicholas Brody, Donnie Wahlberg is currently the star of the CBS procedural Blue Bloods, and Neal McDonough continues to be featured sporadically in various film and television projects. Unfortunately, the underutilized and underappreciated actor ends up being the best part of a forgettable or bad movie, and has yet to achieve anything equaling a major Hollywood breakthrough, which he definitely deserves. Michael Cudlitz had a starring role on the criminally underrated cancelled-too-soon cop drama Southland from 2009 to 2013. Also in blink-and-you’ll-miss bit parts are future (past) Magneto Michael Fassbender, future (past) Professor X James McAvoy, future Moriarity Andrew Scott, and future… um… everything Tom Hardy. It’s laughable to think, of all the eventual big-timers I just mentioned, the only name viewers knew at the time was comparatively the least talented: David Schwimmer. Indeed, while watching the first episode, my brother walked in and asked “Is that Ross Geller?”

Easy Company (no doubt due to the notoriety this award-winning miniseries received) is the most well-known company active during World War II. This notoriety is well-deserved; Easy Company remains one of the (if not the) most highly decorated units in the history of the United States Army. The company was essential in the initial European invasion (Operation Market Garden), held their own against German artillery in the Battle of the Bulge, and the capturing of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden. The company was an active fighting unit throughout the entirety of the United States’ involvement in the European Theater of War. This portion of the review may read like a history lesson, but when covering a historical miniseries such as this, a brief lesson of why exactly HBO, Hanks, and Spielberg thought Easy Company was so pertinent and interesting to cover over all other possibilities is necessary.

Both my great-grandfather and grandfather (My grandmother’s father and my grandmother’s future husband) were veterans of the war. My Grandpa Mike was a paratrooper in another company. I never learned much about Mike’s time in the war, but my Great Grandpa Orville had several interesting experiences I learned about from Grandma. Maybe my family history is why I find Band of Brothers so interesting and entertaining. At the time of this review (Memorial Day), this is my third viewing of the ten episode series. I meant to review the David Ayer film Fury from 2014, but circumstance lead me unable to obtain the film at this time. Not that I’m complaining about another opportunity to view this mastercraft of a miniseries.

Spielberg and Hanks previously collaborated on the award-winning war epic Saving Private Ryan in 1998. While a great film worthy of the praise it receives to this day, I prefer Band of Brothers on nearly every level. While understandably much lower in budget, comparatively, and therefore much lower in scale and action, I do not feel brutality is the main draw of Band of Brothers. As I’ve said in my recent reviews, I have recently come to the conclusion that the most important aspect of any successful work of fiction, over all other aspects of that work (in the majority of cases, though not all) is interesting and empathetic characters. The 169 minute Saving Private Ryan certainly does so, but the estimated 600-minute long total Band of Brothers beats it’s progenitor into the ground in this respect. The action in the miniseries admittedly feels extremely small in scale in comparison to the introductory sequences of the film, which are rightly considered legendary for both the filmmaking techniques, use of traditional and practical effects use over CGI, as well as historical accuracy. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the actual sequence online to insert here, but I will say here that Saving Private Ryan is entertaining, awesome, and emotional and you should go watch it. However, though the Omaha Beach sequence is certainly nightmarish, haunting, depressing, and awe-inspiring in both the best and worst ways, some sequences of this miniseries are, arguably, more emotionally impactful than the film.

This scene, in my opinion, is more emotionally striking than any scene in Saving Private Ryan. Of course, this scene comes from the seventh chapter, so the miniseries has the advantage of using six previous hours to get us invested in these characters, which makes their departure all the more gut-wrenching. To add to the impact, you must remember that this actually happenedJoe Toye, Bill Guarnere, and Buck Compton are real soldiers, Toye and Guarnere really got their legs blown off, and the incident really did irrevocably scar Buck for the rest of his (notably well accomplished) life. None of the characters in Saving Private Ryan are real, and, with the exception of the Omaha Beach sequence, none of the events occurred in real life.

The above scene is punctuated by the usually charismatic, upbeat, and infallible Buck, in a moment of shock, fear, sadness, anger, and urgency, screams desperately for a medic. Here, Neal McDonough, in his final major appearance in the miniseries, produces the single most vulnerable character moment in the series, which is filled with vulnerable character moments. There is little, if any, spectacle in the series. The combat sequences are brief, violent, realistic, and at no point flashy or drawn out. Combat is (possibly due to budget) not heavily featured at all, in actuality. Instead, the series has a heavy narrative and dramatic focus.

It’s scenes like this that are why Band of Brothers is so well-regarded, and why I am able to binge it three times over in two years. It still makes me sad, angry, and sickened to see this and know it actually happened. This scene, thanks to the pitch perfect acting, realistic looking set and makeup, as well as the score, will never lose its edge.

In the name of entertainment, it is publicly acknowledged that at certain points, the series does take certain creative liberties. In general, I have no problem if film or television that is created expressly for the purpose of entertainment stretches the truth at certain points to make the piece of entertainment entertaining. It becomes offensive when you base something off of a true story and either A) stretch the truth to such levels that what was claimed to be a true story becomes a complete work of fiction or B) omit certain parts of the truth that may hinder the film in some way. Unbroken did this. During Louis Zamperini’s captivity, POWs were burned, stabbed, shot, and subjected to horrific medical experiments. After being freed, Zamperini went off the deep end, developed an alcohol and drug problem, and basically hit rock bottom really hard. He later converted to Christianity, got back on his feet, and became a pretty decent guy. Everything I just said was omitted from the film, because Angelina Jolie wanted to keep a cartoonishly annoying amount of “hope in the face of despair” hogwash in the film so it would be more likely to get an Oscar. The Academy loves its melodramatic uplifting (not very) true stories. Jolie took out and altered crucial narrative parts, and the worst part about it is she didn’t even do it to make a better film; if all the stuff she cut out was in the movie, it undeniably would’ve been a better movie! It was all in the name of an Oscar. This means the film is not only callously exploitive of Louis Zamperini, whom my best friend considers a hero, it is also simultaneously exploitive of the people, including my best friend, who view Zamperini a good man. It is a letdown to anyone wanting to see a good movie, and the film is amazingly, by some black magic, exploitive of the actual film itself.

In case you couldn’t tell, I really don’t like Unbroken. I only saw it once, I don’t want to see it again, and since I saw it before this blog started, I wanted to rail against it in an official capacity. Luckily, the same crimes cannot be charged against Band of Brothers. PLOT TWIST: Now that tangent is just barely relevant to this review meaning I can keep it in there and not feel like it’s irrelevant! 🙂 In fact, the series was praised by members of the real life Easy Company upon release, and is noted for mostly maintaining accuracy. The members of Easy Company approved episodes before airing. The actors contacted those they would be portraying prior to filming in order to nail the personality of the individual heroes. On a touching note, Lynn Compton’s 90th birthday celebration was attended by McDonough, Cudlitz, and Richard Speight, Jr. McDonough’s son is nicknamed “Little Buck” in honor of Compton.

Band of Brothers was nominated for twenty Emmys, winning seven. It won the Golden Globe for Outstanding Miniseries, AFI’s award for Best Miniseries of the Year, a Best Miniseries award from both the Producers’ Guild of America and the TCA, and was selected for a Peabody Award for “…relying on both history and memory to create a new tribute to those who fought to preserve liberty,” which is more than I can say for Angelina Jolie. Band of Brothers is an entertaining, moving, interesting, accurate, and respectful portrayal of real life heroes that is also a lesson in long-form storytelling that every future miniseries should look to for inspiration in the ways of filmmaking and scripting.

I might review Fury tomorrow, we’ll see. Yeah, I kinda noticed I forgot to review a lot of movies, so this is me compensating. Keanu was hilarious, Spectre suffered from the same problems Apocalypse had, Spotlight was great, Creed was great, I watched 2004’s Collateral and enjoyed it, and The Revenant was entertaining and much better than the overrated Birdman. I might go back and review some of these, but those are the very brief thoughts on those. In mid-July, I will be doing a retrospective look back at the first phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with my friend while up in Wisconsin for three weeks. And yeah, I switched to WordPress, because… reasons.