|CROWN HEIGHTS (director/writer: Matt Ruskin; cinematographer: Ben Kutchins; editor: Paul Greenhouse; music: Mark Degli Antoni; cast: Lakeith Stanfield (Colin Warner), Adriane Lenox (Grace), Nnamdi Asomugha(Carl 'KC' King ), Luke Forbes (Anthony Gibson), Bill Camp (William Robedee), Natalie Paul (Antoinette), Amari Cheatom (), Marsha Stephanie Blake (Briana), Nestor Carbonell (Bruce Regenstreich), Zach Grenier (Detective Cassel), Josh Pais (D.A. Mengano), Yul Vazquez (Commissioner Rafello), Ron Canada (Judge Marcy); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Nnamdi Asomugha, Natalie Galazka, Matt Ruskin; Amazon Studios; 2017)|
|"The performance by Stanfield is exceptional."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Matt Ruskin ("Booster"/"The Hip Hop Project") is the writer-director of this true story It is an uneven but at times compelling miscarriage of justice drama. It won the dramatic audience award in 2017 at Sundance. It chronicles the case of the Trinidad-born but Brooklyn-raised teen Colin Warner (Lakeith Stanfield), who was convicted for the spring of 1980 shooting murder in Crown Heights of Marvin Grant – even though it was clear that Warner didn’t know the victim and wasn’t at the crime scene. His alibi was that he was stealing a car to pick up his mother's TV from the repair shop. Warner was imprisoned for more than two decades, but never stopped claiming he was innocent. Justice was eventually served when his closest friend Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha) did all he could do to find new lawyers (like going out to raise money to fund a new case) and new witnesses to help reopen the case.
The film gets tangled up at times trying to cover all the information it has gathered and would have perhaps been better served with only a few relevant dramatic scenes to make its case rather than becoming fragmented (no follow ups to detail what it reveals) trying to tell everything about this frustrating case and by doing that making it more sketchy. But what it does very well, is never let go of the outrage the viewer should have of how the justice system doesn't really work--how the sleazeball cops involved and the inadequacies of the justice system bring down the system. Even if it shows the justice system still works in the end, no one can ignore how it took away so much of an innocent man's life before it eventually worked.
The performance by Stanfield is exceptional, of showing astonishment at the process and of trying to hold back a simmering rage. It's his performance that's the glue that holds the film together through its patchy spots. It becomes obvious Warner's mistreatment is based on his race. Though it's not a preachy movie, it clearly makes its point that in general blacks and whites are treated differently by the system.
REVIEWED ON 1/15/2018 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
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