Crown Heights, B-
Rated R, 99 minutes
The familiar yet powerful crime drama "Crown Heights" tells the true story of Colin Warner, who was wrongfully convicted of a murder he didn't commit and spent over 20 years in prison for it. Adapted from a "This American Life" podcast, it occasionally veers into feel-good, "Law & Order" territory, but it's still a thought-provoking portrait of the injustices and racism of the American criminal system.
In 1980, police in Brooklyn, N.Y., charge teenage immigrant Colin Warner ("Selma's" Keith Stanfield) with murder. Convicted for a crime he didn't commit, Colin spends years in prison while his friend Carl King (football-player-turned-actor Nnamdi Asomugha) fights for the young man's freedom.
"Crown Heights" is directed and written by Matt Ruskin and tells the compelling true story of Warner, is a heartfelt and often heartbreaking look at injustice and racism. It often skims some of the grittier aspects of Warner's story and it feels a little watered down at times, but it's still a haunting look at a man from Trinidad who received the worst of injustices from the American justice system. It took over 20 years and a lot of help and persistence from Carl King, Warner's best friend, to get the charges overturned.
In "Heights," we see the passage of time and the years that Warner spends in jail, with the challenges he faces inside and outside the prison walls. He's an outsider wherever he's at: he doesn't belong in jail and society doesn't want him, either, casting him off to a cell, where, in one heartbreaking scene, he learns the details of his beloved grandmother's death in Trinidad.
"Heights" is superbly acted from leads Stanfield and Asomugha; Stanfield is suitably weathered as Warner, who maintains his innocence, and Asomugha gives the right amount of tough patience as King, who continues to fight in cases like Warner's. Warner, who also received a settlement from the case, has a worthy story that's occasionally uneven and empty, with some details of the case overlooked here and more focused on the passage of time than on the facets of Warner's story.
"Crown Heights" is a flawed film that could've resonated with much more power than it does. Even as it lacks the ability to infuriate you (which it doesn't, enough at least), it's a satisfying story of someone who really did overcome, though it took considerable time to do so.