I’ve read wildly conflicting views on The Night Of, and I can see all the arguments. Me, I would watch this even if the whole thing was just John Turturro rubbing Crisco on his eczema-stricken feet and interacting with a cat. He’s a magnetic guy, and his performance here as a sort of weary sad-sack attorney trying to land a name-making case (while genuinely caring about the client) is a gem. His character is a guy who can’t just walk away and has too soft a spot for hard-luck, can’t win cases/situations… and it’s probably why he isn’t really any better at his job. Too soft to be brutal or hard-hitting.
The Night Of is far from perfect. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about this crime drama – from how and why the lead/murder suspect ends up in the situation he does, to how there seems to be no real drive, hurry or impetus for any of the parties involved to investigate the crime (i.e., if the main suspect didn’t do it, as he claims, who did? Shouldn’t his parents or his lawyer be invested in drumming up reasonable doubt?). There is a lot of emphasis on procedure, and I suppose that’s important too. Cases are won and lost on procedural points (isn’t that the whole point of A Civil Action? Yes, and surprise, surprise – both that film and The Night Of were directed by Steven Zaillian). And, with criminal investigations and signing legal clients, there is a procedure involved there too. Same with booking suspects into jail. But… is this a criminal whodunit or a tale of how a mostly naive kid is in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up in the really wrong place (prison) and has to learn how to deal with that new reality – regardless of whether he committed a crime or not? Is this meant to be a commentary on the criminal justice system and its procedure? Is it meant to be a commentary at all? It’s hard to tell.