"THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE" makes the sardonic point that exoneration rarely gets the same frenzied publicity as conviction, and takes a small step toward redress.
Its documentary subjects are the five boys-turned-men (Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray) railroaded in 1989 for the beating and rape of the so-called Central Park jogger, and of course there is much shame to be conferred in this story on police and prosecutors.
They buried evidence, coerced confessions, and proceeded with prosecution even when it must have been obvious to them (the DNA didn't match) that they had arrested the wrong people (and that the actual rapist was on the loose, still raping).
What accounts for their behavior?
This is the big hole in Ken Burns' movie, but it's unavoidable, since law enforcement wanted to no part of this documentary, no doubt hugely embarrassing to all involved (also, they're being sued).
What's doubly disturbing about "The Central Park Five," culled from extensive then-and-now interviews with the wrongly convicted men, is the way the entire city turned a blind eye to the actual facts of the case - the police, the prosecutors, the media, the mayor, even, shockingly, some of the boys' own families.
At the root of it all is the phenomenon of coerced confessions - the good that may emerge from "The Central Park Five" is the forceful aspersion it casts on the process of out-of-control police interrogation.
Many don't understand why innocent parties confess to crimes they didn't commit - it's what gives confessions such power in a courtroom.
"The Central Park Five" shows how phony confessions are obtained - terrified boys hazed for 30 hours or more, and told that a story, any story, will result in their release.
The additional outrage here is that boys' desperate fictions were so glaringly at odds with the facts of the crime scene - and that it bothered nobody.
There are crimes, like this one, that become particularly notorious for one reason or another - and race (the boys are black, the victim white) certainly fueled this fire. So did the crack-fueled crime wave that left citizens feeling frightened, powerless and overwhelmed - Burns' archivists capture this nicely.
This was a horrific crime, a crack- and crime-plagued city wanted punishment, and nobody much cared who answered for it.
"The Central Park Five" notes that many still don't. The actual rapist was found, already in jail, and that didn't make the front page either. Ho hum.
The falsely convicted are now free, their records expunged, but the other crime here, the willful prosecution of innocent men, goes unpunished.