James Cole Clay// Film Critic
Rated R, 94 minutes.
Director: Matt Ruskin
Cast: Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul, Luke Forbes, Adriane Lenox, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Zach Grenier
Available today on DVD and Digital HD.
The heartbreak of a life lost to the failed justice system is at the forefront of CROWN HEIGHTS, a reserved yet important true story of Colin Warner’s (LaKeith Stanfield) fight to be released from prison for a crime he did not commit. The small scale story by director Matt Ruskin (co-producer THE INFILTRATOR) lays out the large injustice that has plagued our country for decades.
Colin is a fairly average guy – he just so happens to a steal car every once in a while – in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. This particular neighborhood is the hub of Caribbean culture in NYC. Warner is able to find a gig training to be a mechanic under his friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) and attempt to start a life with a woman named Antoinette (Natalie Paul). This is a pretty humdrum life, but it’s stable and beats the hell out of a jail cell.
Spanning decades beginning in 1980 when forensics just aren’t what they are today, Colin is wrongfully arrested for a murder when he’s randomly pulled off the street and thrown into a car. The police were more interested in grabbing the first man of color picked out of a lineup than putting in some real detective work. Ruskin, in a rather unremarkable fashion, shows the true underbelly of police work that depicts brutality of a different kind. While Ruskin’s story is compelling in its own right, the execution lacks a flare to allow CROWN HEIGHTS to gain emotion, as its certainly striving for through the performances.
Stanfield is an emerging talent whose work in SHORT TERM 12, ATLANTA and GET OUT shows his range in supporting roles. He’s morphed into his roles with ease and settles into this challenging one with depth and humanity. This is an actor who has been on the radar for some years now, and while this prison drama won’t lift up his star power, it will be a nice calling card for upcoming dramatic projects.
CROWN HEIGHTS isn’t just a tale of oppression, it depicts an obsession by Colin’s friend Carl, who pulls all the stops to attempt to get his friend out of prison. Decades go by and Carl is raising money to hire lawyers and file appeals, but its the emotional toll this takes on him and his family that pays the largest price tag.
Based on a true story, CROWN HEIGHTS is a predictable, yet moving drama that can inspire and show the testament of the human will to adapt, learn and move on from trauma. Echoing HBO’s incredible miniseries THE NIGHT OF, which also focuses on false imprisonment, this drama suffers from the lack of time we are able to spend with Colin behind bars. It’s a deftly balanced drama that overcomes its faults on its impression crusade for freedom.
- Feature film commentary with Director Matt Ruskin and Producer Nnamdi Asomugha
- The story behind CROWN HEIGHTS