This docudrama about a man wrongfully imprisoned for a killing he did not commit is bleak yet ultimately turns into a story about incredible courage and hope. Lakeith Stanfield stars. Rating: 4 stars out of 4.
“Crown Heights” tells the story of a grotesque miscarriage of justice.
An 18-year-old Brooklyn man, Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield), is arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a killing he did not commit. He wasn’t there. He didn’t know the victim. It made no difference.
The story is true.
Movie Review ★★★★
‘Crown Heights,’ with Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Paul. Written and directed by Matt Ruskin. 99 minutes. Rated R for language, sexuality, nudity, violence. Several theaters.
The story is appalling.
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A central component of the story is racism. Warner, a native of Trinidad, is black, as are the witnesses coerced by the police to place him at the scene of the crime. The cops who arrest him, the detectives who interrogate him and intimidate those witnesses into giving false testimony, the guards who beat him in prison, the parole board that refuses to parole him are all white.
In prison, he says, he was made to feel “like I wasn’t even a person.”
His ordeal, which begins in 1980, lasts 21 years.
Despite all that, “Crown Heights” is ultimately a story about incredible courage and hope. Having worked closely with Warner and his best friend Carl “KC” King (played in the movie by Nnamdi Asomugha), writer-director Matt Ruskin keeps a laserlike focus on one central fact: Warner’s steadfast insistence on his innocence.
Stanfield, in a performance of quiet power, fully inhabits Warner’s agony at the injustice that is being done to him. “They took everything from me,” he asserts. Yet they can’t break him, despite hammering him with setback after setback.
He feels despair, yet “I know I have to live to clear my name.”
His despair is alleviated by the fact that he has not been abandoned by the world outside. His friend KC works tirelessly to raise money for his legal fees — raising it from people in the Crown Heights neighborhood and using his own money to the point that he jeopardizes his marriage.
In Warner’s corner also is childhood friend Antoinette (Natalie Paul), with whom he falls in love and marries while in prison.
Together they offer hope, but hope turns out to be a two-edged sword. As the years go by and his expectations of exoneration are repeatedly dashed, he tells KC to stop trying to help him. It hurts too much to sustain hope. But KC tells his friend he won’t quit him. “It’s not just you,” he says. “It’s bigger than that.” The injustice being done to him is emblematic of the injustices visited on other black men victimized by the legal meat grinder.
What Warner undergoes in “Crown Heights” is difficult to watch. Yet in the end, remarkably. there is triumph. And, finally, justice.