The Central Park Five
***This documentary takes an emotionally charged subject -- the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of five black and Hispanic teenage boys for the rape of a white, female jogger -- and makes its case in a straightforward, detached manner. It is thoughtful, educational and understated, perhaps to a fault -- tonally, the trademark work of veteran documentarian Ken Burns, who directs, writes and produces this time with daughter Sarah Burns, who wrote a book about the crime, and her husband, David McMahon. It efficiently depicts, but doesn't get caught up in, the hysteria of the place and time: a racially and socioeconomically divided New York City in April 1989, when it was rotting with crack cocaine, AIDS and violent crime but also gleaming with the conspicuous consumption of the era. The late-night attack on jogger Trisha Meili -- then a 28-year-old Wall Street investment banker who's now an author and motivational speaker -- became a symbol of this chasm and everything that seemed wrong with society. And the five young men from Harlem who happened to be running around Central Park that night -- Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Korey Wise (previously spelled Kharey Wise), and Yusef Salaam -- became all-too easy scapegoats. "The Central Park Five" aims to clear their names publicly, once and for all, in a way that much of the press did not when a judge vacated the young men's convictions in 2002. Not rated but contains language and graphic, violent details.
Killing Them Softly
Writer-director Andrew Dominik's film is an incredibly stylish genre exercise set in the world of mobsters, junkies and lowlifes, but it's also trying incredibly hard to be About Something. Not content merely to be profane, abrasive and occasionally, darkly amusing, it also wants to be relevant. And so Dominik has taken the 1974 crime novel "Cogan's Trade" by George V. Higgins and set it in the days before the 2008 presidential election, just as the U.S. economy is in the midst of catastrophic collapse. Every television and radio is tuned to then-candidate Barack Obama or President George W. Bush addressing the nation -- even in bars and thugs' cars -- with the volume cranked way up, commenting all too obviously on the film's action. As if we couldn't decipher for ourselves that organized crime functions as its own form of capitalism, "Killing Them Softly" turns on the mini-implosion that occurs when a couple of idiots rob a mob-protected card game. Scoot McNairy plays the jittery ex-con Frankie; his inept partner is a heroin addict played by Ben Mendelsohn. Both are aggressively grungy. The corporate types at the top of the syndicate want to restore order, so they ask Jackie Cogan, an enforcer played by Brad Pitt (star of Dominik's haunting, poetic "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford"), to investigate the heist and punish the perpetrators. This is one of those effortless Pitt performances that exemplify how beautifully he manages to be both a serious actor and a superstar. The film's best scenes are the ones he shares with James Gandolfini as a brazen but insecure hit man. R for violence, sexual references, pervasive language and some drug use.
-- ASSOCIATED PRESS