This is actually my second time writing this because this was showing in only one movie theater near me and it only played one week and I didn’t get a chance to actually see it. Thinking I missed my opportunity to write about it, I deleted the post. But I guess it’s back now, so I have no choice but to rewrite. Fun stuff.
Sadly, I am not familiar with the Colin Warner case, a black man wrongfully accused of murder in 1980 and how his friend, Carl King, dedicated his life to proving Warner’s innocence. Despite not knowing about the story, I can safely say that this movie is interesting.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Lakeith Stanfield (GET OUT , MILES AHEAD , and SELMA ) and Nnamdi Asomugha (HELLO, MY NAME IS DORIS ). In support, we have Natalie Paul (1 episode of LUKE CAGE [2016 – ongoing]) and Nestor Carbonell (IMPERIUM , THE DARK KNIGHT , and TV show LOST [2004 – 2010]).
Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Matt Ruskin, known for a couple of documentaries and a movie I’ve never heard of. Composing the score is Mark De Gli Antoni, known for documentaries and short films. Finally, the cinematographer is Ben Kutchins, known for SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE (2015), VERONICA MARS (2014), and TV show OZARK (2017 – ongoing).
Overall, not super excited, but interested.
This is my honest opinion of: CROWN HEIGHTS
In 1980, Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield) was 18 years old, suddenly arrested on the streets and brought to jail for the murder of another young man, a crime he didn’t commit. Failed trial after failed trial, his best friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) spends the next twenty years proving his innocence, even at great personal cost.
I don’t know what’s up with IMDb, but I thought this film was really good.
After the first fifteen or so minutes, I had absolutely no idea where the story was going to go. Typical courtroom stories like this are about a dead guy and the lawyers or detectives search for the guy who did it, essentially a murder mystery. Within the first fifteen minutes, it’s established that Colin didn’t kill anyone and there is such little evidence to support the charges other than a being pointed out for no reason by an “eye witness”. By all accounts, you’d think the movie was wrapping up by the thirty minute mark. But no, the whole story about Colin Warner is that he was imprisoned for the better part of twenty years, and according to the timeline of this movie, he’s only been incarcerated for less than a year. I had no idea what was going on, and that is what makes this story so engaging.
Having said that, there is admittedly one weakness to the film that I don’t think was ever truly addressed until the end. Because much of the film is acknowledging that the case is a sham and someone knows something and wasn’t telling the whole truth, how did it take twenty years to resolve? You have all these characters saying, “This evidence is so thin, it’s borderlining on incompetence,” but where was anyone that was working on this case saying anything like that? Where was Colin’s lawyer? Why wasn’t he asking these questions? How come no one questions the police officers involved, or the jury that might be threatened? It takes twenty years to Carl to gather up everything and find the people involved and get them to tell him the truth? I mean, we later learn that everyone was being harassed by the investigating police officers who didn’t want to deal with the case, but why would they all tell the truth now? Even the guy who really committed the crime admitted his involvement freely to Carl. How often does that happen?
While I certainly don’t think this area of the story was explored very well, it’s hard to let that truly drag the film down because of everything involving Stanfield as Colin. We spend a lot of time with him and his part of the story, the part that is arguably the most important, is done very well. It is really heartbreaking to watch this guy, starting off as a normal kid just trying to get by in his neighborhood, get randomly snatched off the streets and his humanity being chiseled away from other inmates assaulting him, security guards beating him, he’s a man who eventually gives up all hope of seeing justice served and it’s hard to blame him. Every step Carl makes is either met with a proverbial middle finger, or so much red tape that it was making me want to punch a prison guard.
There does feel like there’s a legitimate connection between Colin and Carl. You do see a man who is willing to sacrifice so much in the name of justice, even if that means his wife and kids leave him. But there are bigger pieces at play, that if they can prove a man’s innocence after he’s been wrongfully convicted, then that can give some semblance of hope to those who are in similar situations. Maybe even spark new ways of investigating cases like this so that people like Colin Warner don’t have to go through what he did. Not that this isn’t an issue today, of course, and sadly this doesn’t really mention how Carl’s investigations contributed to the cause of helping wronged convicts in cases that followed. About the only that is mentioned is that Carl continued to look into cases of prisoners who weren’t guilty of the charges.
Overall, yes, the movie has a few question marks lingering over itself, but I can’t say that it makes the film unwatchable. When it counts, the movie delivers heartfelt story of two men who fought and persevered against a broken justice system. You feel frustrated, you feel hope, you’re right there with Colin Warner from beginning to end, making this a surprisingly visceral experience. I do recommend this film. It may not be the must-see flick of the year, but it’s a good movie and worth seeing.
My honest rating for CROWN HEIGHTS: 4/5