“Crown Heights” is written and directed by Matt Ruskin and stars; Lakeith Stanfield, Nnamdi Asomugha and Natalie Paul. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and it’s getting limited theatrical release this month. The story follows Colin Warner, a man who is wrongfully convicted of murder and sent to prison. His best friend Carl refuses to let Colin take the blame for the crime, and spends a bulk of his life trying to prove his innocence.
This was another film that proves sometimes the boldest message can be delivered in the subtlest of packages. There were many elements to this film that were extremely well done. From the performances, to the scripts structure. In addition to delivering some thought provoking writing and artistic direction from Matt Ruskin. The story-line was able to cover a span of over twenty-five-years yet it never slows.
It never feels jumbled or drawn out. You follow the course of Colin’s ordeal with detail, but just the right amount of it given in timely doses. The writing doesn’t force every detail on you. It gives you glimpses, and small substance filled doses of Colin’s past and lets you realize the rest on your own. Which was something that created so much intrigue while watching.
The performances were all fantastic. Lakeith Stanfield was excellent with a very understated performance. He conveys all the raw emotion needed for this persona and he captures it with a grounded realism as his characters copes with the situations being unjustly thrown at him. Nnamdi Asomugha who many may remember from his days in the NFL was touching with his portrayal. He brings the film another very grounded performance. You can buy in to the chemistry between the friends, and you can understand why he is so determined to get Colin out of prison, and Asomugha captured this empathy with realism.
I thought the film did a great job of advancing the story through the years. It doesn’t bog itself down and extend the run-time to overload the viewer. It keeps a swift pace with a smooth progression, and some nicely added archival footage to remind you of the current social state of each story segment. Now this film is about an African-American man being incarcerated for a crime he didn’t commit. Put in prison by the hands of officers, attorney’s, and a legal system that was more concerned with conviction numbers than human life.
Something that could easily be used as an emotional trigger but this movie did not try to play on heightened emotions. It kept the focus on Colin’s life. The ordeals he went through, and never did it feel like the writing, or performances were embellished for dramatic effect. The stories intention is to connect you to Colin, to get to know him and it was effective. The focus always felt like it was on the ordeal he faced, at face value without trying to add melodramatics. This was a horrible situation on its own and the impact of what Colin went through was saddening. The filmmakers seemed to understand this and by sticking to the events, their message is more than delivered.
I think this was a fantastic film overall. It will pull you into the world of the story and connect you with the characters much deeper than simply on a surface level and I definitely recommend checking it out. It’s a captivating story that will break your heart, and at the same time inspire you to do right to others after seeing a man devote his life to freeing another.