It was 1972 when Jeannie Berlin made an awards season splash with mom Elaine May’s hit comedy “The Heartbreak Kid.” Berlin garnered an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, ultimately losing to Eileen Heckart (“Butterflies Are Free”), as well as a Golden Globe nomination and honors from the National Society of Film Critics and the New York Film Critics Circle. More than four decades later, Berlin is contending for her first Emmy nomination, for her scene-stealing turn as veteran District Attorney Helen Weiss on HBO’s limited series “The Night Of.” Weiss is the prosecutor tasked with proving college student Nasir “Naz” Khan (Riz Ahmed) guilty of a gruesome murder.
Berlin’s appearance on “The Night Of” came amid a remarkable comeback to the screen for the actress, who was absent from film and television over the entirety of the 1980s and most of the 1990s. Praised turns in films like “Margaret” (2011), “Inherent Vice” (2014) and “Cafe Society” (2014) proved Berlin is hardly a rusty performer. Those films, coupled with her work on “The Night Of,” served as a testament to the extraordinary performances Berlin is capable of.
“The Night Of” is an all-around compelling series, with brilliant efforts from Ahmed, John Turturro, Michael Kenneth Williams and Bill Camp, among others. Yet Berlin manages to still stand out in a big way, particularly toward the end of the series’ run, when Weiss commands the courtroom. Even those unfamiliar with Berlin’s past work going into “The Night Of” must be entranced by her stirring screen presence.
Of Berlin’s work, specifically in the episode “Ordinary Death,” the TVLine team noted, “Using the subtlest of gestures, inflections and pauses, Berlin put on a riveting show as her veteran D.A. Helen Weiss undermined the defense’s expert witness Dr. Katz (Chip Zien) with a lethal combination of humor and cynicism, seductiveness and steel.” And Jeff Jensen of Entertainment Weekly raved over Berlin’s overall performance, saying, “Berlin was fantastic throughout the series, playing to and subverting the hard-ass, all-about-the-win prosecutor.”
Also buoyant about Berlin was Matthew Gilbert in The Boston Globe, writing, “I just can’t praise her enough for her turn as alpha prosecutor Helen Weiss, the steely but weary veteran district attorney who tried to prove Naz guilty of murder. Berlin ruled every scene she was in during the run of the season, and she practically shattered the finale with her tense energy.”
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