Movie Review - Crown Heights
Matt Ruskin's film Crown Heights opens with "The Message". The classic hip-hop song from rap pioneers Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, sets the scene of gritty 1980s New York City; long before the wave of hipsters, overpriced housing and organic smoothie shops. Far removed from the tourist traps of Manhattan; In the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, New York, a murder happens. On April 10, 1980 Mario Hamilton was gunned down with a single bullet at close range. He was 16 - years old. 18 year-old Collin Warner (LaKeith Stanfield) would be identified as the assailant by "eye-witnesses". Collin Warner was convicted of 2nd degree murder. This is should be the end of the story. The State of New York served justice to a grieving family with another successful conviction except; Collin Warner was wrongfully accused of a crime that he didn't commit. Despite the lack of motive, evidence and statements made by minors without legal or parental supervision, Collin Warner was sentenced to 15-years to life in state prison.
Despite the wafer thin evidence; overworked public defenders and unscrupulous appeals attorneys habitually fail Warner and his childhood friend Carl King (former Oakland Raider and film's producer Nnamdi Asomugha); but it is up to them to keep the case alive. Asomugha's performance as Carl is surprisingly stirring. His unending quest to free Warner, came at great sacrifice. The warmth and humanity of the role, match that of the lead Stanfield, making Carl feel like a co-lead than a supporting character. Unfortunately, the film doesn't spend much time on other characters, leaving most of them to be forgettable and one-dimensional.
Crown Heights is a briskly paced fact-based narrative that follows Warner's life during his incarceration. Time passes unbelievably fast, during the film's exposition. Large swaths of time pass, which could've been used to go a bit more in depth on the rigors of prison life or the tedious appeals process. Nit-picky gripes at best won't detract from this harrowing true life tale. In this contentious time of American History, films like Detroit and Loving are usually, conversation starters that hopefully challenge society's ills. Crown Heights is sure to be added to that list. However, the film doesn't try to be a rallying point of social justice. Other than text before the end credits, the film isn't laced with facts or figures about the prison system and how it routinely fails Americans. Crown Heights presents the facts as they are, without the usually (not too) subtle hidden agenda.
Verdict: A Rated: R @ 99 mins